Mar 302017
 
 March 30, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Carole Lombard 1926

 


Fed’s Williams Says Bank Lending Slowdown Doesn’t Worry Him Yet (YF)
Retailing in America: Game Theory in Reverse (DiMartinoBooth)
‘Deep Subprime’ Auto Loans Are Surging (BBG)
Margin Debt Hit All-Time High in February (WSJ)
US Oil Export Surge Steals More OPEC Share (CNBC)
Australia World’s Worst Money Laundering Property Market (TI)
Sydney, Melbourne House Price Gains Accelerate (AFR)
Auckland Housing Market Losing All Capital Gains Of The Last 12 Months (INZ)
House Panel Passes Bill To Audit The Fed (MW)
Hawaii Judge Places Indefinite Hold On Trump Travel Ban (BBC)
Paul Ryan Opposes Trump Working With Democrats On Healthcare (R.)
Democrats Against Single Payer (Jacobin)
American Empire Crumbling (Quinn)
The EU Cannot Survive If It Sticks To Business As Usual (Varoufakis)
Capitalism Inevitably Creates A ‘Sad’ Unfair World – Physicist (Ind.)
‘That Was Some Weird Shit’ (NYMag)
146 Feared Dead In Mediterranean, Boy The Sole Survivor (R.)

 

 

Today’s main theme just has to be W’s ‘That Was Some Weird Shit’. Here’s the graph to go with it.

Fed’s Williams Says Bank Lending Slowdown Doesn’t Worry Him Yet (YF)

A recent slowdown in bank lending has some observers concerned that the post-election pops in optimism are sending a false signal about the strength of the U.S. economy. To San Francisco Fed president John Williams, however, this decline is out of step with everything else credit markets are saying about the economy. “The big picture is: I don’t see any signs of a slowing either on the demand side or on the credit supply side,” Williams told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday. “Overall, the other indicators, everything we see, [says] economic conditions are good,” Williams added. “Confidence is good, and we’re not seeing any signs of bank lending standards changing fundamentally. So it’s hard to see anything, from my viewpoint, that [says] credit is less available.”

In recent months, the growth rate of commercial and industrial loans, as tracked by the Federal Reserve’s weekly H.8 report on assets and liability of U.S. banks, has been on the decline. This is viewed by many as a negative development in an economy where lending and borrowing activity serve as proxies for the economy’s overall health. But Williams also cautioned that lending data can reveal economic developments on a lag. For example, he noted to Yahoo Finance that in 2008 bank lending increased, which contradicted the notion that the financial markets were seizing up. Indeed, companies were unable to borrow by tapping the bond markets. However, the lending did increase because companies drew from existing lines of credit.

Right now, Williams noted that one story behind the drop in C&I loan growth going around is that oil and gas companies last year drew on lines of credit, boosting loan growth at the time. And thus the current decline in lending, which appears out of step with broader economic conditions, is occurring largely because of difficult year-over-year comparisons.

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Retail demise exposes banks.

Retailing in America: Game Theory in Reverse (DiMartinoBooth)

On March 21st, Sears Holding Corporation submitted a filing with its regulators that it has “substantial doubt” it can continue as a “going concern.” Don’t recall companies being charged with making their own death throes’ announcements from your Accounting coursework? You are correct. Meet the new and improved U.S. accounting rules that have just come into effect for public companies reporting annual periods that ended after December 15, 2016, Sears included. The change shifted the onus to disclose from a given company’s auditors to its management. It was telling that the Sears news fell on the very same day discount retailer Payless announced it could soon file for bankruptcy protection. That same day, the less ubiquitous Bebe female fashion chain said it too was ‘exploring strategic options,’ typically code for that same ill-fated Chapter in the court system.

[..] At the opposite end of the denial spectrum sits Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, who is and has been publicly worried about an entirely different sort of challenge facing the real estate market. It’s no secret that apartment prices are soaring. Over the past year, prices have risen 11%, leading the broad market. While that increase may seem benign in and of itself, consider how the sector has fared over the course of the recovery: prices have recouped an eye-watering 240% of their peak-to-trough losses. In sharp contrast, retail has performed the worst; it’s only recovered 96% of its losses. Rosengren is rightly worried that the “sharp” increase in apartment prices could catalyze financial instability. He went on to say that, “Because real estate holdings are widespread, and the monetary and macro-prudential tools for handling valuation concerns are somewhat limited, I believe we must acknowledge that the commercial real estate sector has the potential to amplify whatever problems may emerge when we at some point face an economic downturn.”

If you would indulge a translation: The bubble in commercial real estate (CRE) could trigger systemic risk, which of course, no central bank can contain. The ‘macro-prudential’ tools to which Rosengren refers include rules and caps on banks’ exposure to CRE. Odds are, however, that the horse has already fled the barn. Over the past five years, CRE lending has been running at roughly double economic growth, a dangerous dynamic. The result: banks’ exposure to CRE has reached record levels. Last year alone, bank holdings of CRE and multifamily mortgages rose nine and 12%, respectively. More worrisome yet is that the most concentrated cohort – those with more than 300% of their risk-based capital at risk – is banks with less than $50 billion in assets; most have assets south of $10 billion. How exactly will small banks confront a systemic risk conflagration? That pesky potential presumably is what’s robbing Rosengren of sleep at night. He might just remember that small German lenders called Landesbanks were where subprime bombs detonated unexpectedly way back when.

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Anyone who can fog a mirror is back

‘Deep Subprime’ Auto Loans Are Surging (BBG)

About a third of the risky car loans that are bundled into bonds are considered “deep subprime,” a level that has surged since 2010 and is translating to higher delinquencies on the loans, according to Morgan Stanley. Consumers are falling behind on most subprime car loans, but deep subprime borrowers have deteriorated fastest, the analysts said. Sixty-day delinquencies for bonds backed by these loans have risen 3 percentage points since 2012, compared with just 0.89 percentage points on all other subprime auto securities, Morgan Stanley’s Vishwanath Tirupattur, James Egan and Jeen Ng said in a report dated March 24. “The securitization market has become more heavily weighted towards issuers that we would consider deep subprime,” the strategists wrote. “Auto loan fundamental performance, especially within ABS pools, continues to deteriorate.”

The percentage of subprime auto-loan securitizations considered deep subprime has risen to 32.5% from 5.1% since 2010, Morgan Stanley said. The researchers define deep subprime as lenders with consumer credit grades known as FICO scores below 550. The scale from Fair Isaac Corp. ranges from 300 to 850 and while there’s no firm definition of subprime, borrower scores below 600 are in general considered high credit risks. As Wall Street banks have found it tougher to profit under new regulatory regimes born out of the last subprime crisis, they’ve become more willing to underwrite riskier auto-loan asset-backed security sales. Investors, starved for returns with about $8 trillion of debt globally carrying negative yields, have in turn proven to be insatiable, further facilitating higher levels of risk in the market for the securities.

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The casino’s open for business.

Margin Debt Hit All-Time High in February (WSJ)

Margin debt climbed to a record high in February, a fresh sign of bullishness for flummoxed investors trying to navigate the political and economic crosscurrents driving markets. The amount investors borrowed against their brokerage accounts climbed to $528.2 billion in February, according to the most recent data available from the New York Stock Exchange, released Wednesday. That is up 2.9% from $513.3 billion in January, which had been the first margin debt record in nearly two years. With margin debt, investors pledge securities, typically stocks or bonds, to obtain a loan from their brokerage firms. The money doesn’t have to be used to buy more investments, though it often is. The gauge tends to climb—and pull back—along with broader stock market gauges, which have been rising to fresh records in the wake of November’s presidential election.

Rising levels of margin debt are generally considered to be a measure of investor confidence. Investors are more willing to take out debt against investments when shares are rising and they have more value in their portfolios to borrow against. But experts say a steep rise can indicate that investors are losing sight of market risks and betting that stocks can only go up. Margin debt has a history of peaking right before financial collapses like the ones in 2000 and 2008. When stocks move lower, investors who are buying with borrowed money often must pull out of the market, exacerbating the decline. Before January, the previous record high for margin debt was $505 billion in the spring of 2015. Margin debt then started falling, months ahead of a summer swoon that sent major indexes down more than 10%.

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As demand falls.

US Oil Export Surge Steals More OPEC Share (CNBC)

As OPEC tries to keep oil off the world market, U.S. oil producers are pouring more onto it. The U.S. last week sent more than 1 million barrels a day of crude out of the country, the third biggest export week ever, and double the average amount exported in 2016. It is also the third time this year that U.S. exports exceeded a million barrels a day, an industry record. “It should be somewhat supportive of [U.S. oil prices] in the short run, particularly if the exports keep up. But it obviously is a challenge for the global market and a renewed threat to OPEC and their designs of keeping prices up,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital While the U.S. exported oil, it also exported fuel last week — a steadily growing business. The U.S. sold 1.1 million barrels of diesel fuel, in line with the recent average, but 608,000 barrels a day of gasoline, up from less than 400,000 barrels a day a year ago.

Analyst say the jump in exports means U.S. producers are grabbing more share at the expense of OPEC and its partners, at a time when the cartel and other producers are considering whether to extend their deal to hold 1.8 million barrels of oil off the market. But the U.S. may also be seeing the early signs of a potential rebalancing of its own supply picture, and that could ultimately help clear a logjam of domestic oil barrels. “What we’re now seeing in the U.S. is refinery utilization increasing, as the maintenance season draws to a close. At the same time, there’s good demand for gasoline and diesel which is helping get inventories under control. Those product inventories are less than they were this time last year,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. U.S. refineries supplied 9.5 million barrels a day of gasoline last week, up from 9.2 million the week earlier. Refinery runs increased by 425,000 barrels a day.

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Transparency International reports.

Australia World’s Worst Money Laundering Property Market (TI)

The real estate market has long provided a way for individuals to secretly launder or invest stolen money and other illicitly gained funds… According to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), real estate accounted for up to 30% of criminal assets confiscated worldwide between 2011 and 2013… In many such cases, property is purchased through anonymous shell companies or trusts without undergoing proper due diligence by the professionals involved in the deal. The ease with which such anonymous companies or trusts can acquire property and launder money is directly related to the insufficient rules and enforcement practices in attractive markets… This assessment identifies the following 10 main problems that have enabled corrupt individuals and other criminals to easily purchase luxurious properties anonymously and hide their stolen money in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US:

• Inadequate coverage of anti-money laundering provision
• Identification of the beneficial owners of legal entities, trusts and other legal arrangements is still not the norm
• Foreign companies have access to the real estate market with few requirements or checks
• Over-reliance on due diligence checks by financial institutions leads to cash transactions going unnoticed
• Insufficient rules on suspicious transaction reports and weak implementation
• Weak or no checks on politically exposed persons and their associates
• Limited control over professionals who can engage in real estate transactions: no “fit and proper” test
• Limited understanding of and action on money laundering risks in the sector
• Inconsistent supervision
• Lack of sanctions

Australia has severe deficiencies under all 10 areas identified in the research and is therefore not in line with any of the commitments to tackle corruption and money laundering in real estate made in international forums. In Australia, real estate agents are not subject to the provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering and CounterTerrorism Financing Act 2006. Other professionals such as lawyers and accountants who may also play a role in the sector are not covered either. This means that properties can be bought and sold without any due diligence on the parties. Currently there are no requirements for real estate agents or any professional involved in real estate deals to submit STRs, even if they suspect illegal activity is taking place, and there are no requirements or rules for verifying whether customers are PEPs or their close associates…

In Australia, Canada and the US, the current anti-money laundering framework shows a tendency to rely on financial institutions to conduct the necessary background checks on real estate transactions… there are no checks on cash transactions. In Australia, 70% of Chinese buyers pay in cash and they represent the largest proportion of foreign purchases in the country.

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How this does not scare very single person out of their socks, I can’t imagine.

Sydney, Melbourne House Price Gains Accelerate (AFR)

House price growth accelerated further in March, with gains in Sydney and Melbourne pushing higher than previous cyclical peaks, preliminary CoreLogic figures show. Data for the first 28 days of the month shows Sydney prices have risen 19% over the past year while Melbourne has posted a 16% gain, the company said on Thursday. The combined capital city average of 1.4% – the same pace of growth as February – suggests that the strengthening in the two largest cities offsets further weakness in other markets. “The early results come after a strong rebound in housing market conditions through the latter half of 2016 and into 2017,” CoreLogic head of research Asia Pacific Tim Lawless said. “The strong capital gain results are further evidenced by a continuation in low stock levels, high auction clearance rates and strong investment demand.”

In other data that will underpin property prices, official figures released on Thursday show Sydney’s population hit five million, and Melbourne is the country’s fastest-growing capital. Some caution is needed. A methodology change by CoreLogic last year exaggerated price growth in Sydney and Melbourne while also exacerbating the declines in the falling Perth market. CoreLogic has not yet revised the figures to account for the methodology and distortions will only drop out of the year-on-year comparison in June. It’s clear the market is buoyant, however. Even with lenders tightening loan conditions to investor borrowers, they are increasing discounts to owner owner occupiers to protect market share, Deloitte’s annual Australian mortgage report said on Thursday.

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Nice bubble you got there. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, would you?

Auckland Housing Market Losing All Capital Gains Of The Last 12 Months (INZ)

The Auckland housing market is on the verge of having all of the capital gains it made in the last 12 months wiped out. Prices of Auckland properties have fallen so much in the last few months that median prices are within a hair’s breadth of going into negative territory on an annual basis. They may already be there. In February the average price of Auckland homes sold by Harcourts, the country’s largest real estate agency, was $934,428, down 1.1% compared to where it was in February last year. While Harcourts’ average prices can be a bit choppy on a month by month basis, the figures do not appear to be an aberration. According to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, Auckland’s median selling price peaked at $868,000 in October last year and has declined every month since. In February it hit $800,000, down 7.8% from October’s peak.

But just as significantly, Auckland’s median price in March last year was $820,000. So even if the median price for March this year doesn’t fall any further from where it was in February, or if it increases by anything less than $20,000, Auckland’s median price will have declined to the point where it will be below where it was 12 months previously. Then it’s goodbye capital gains. The interesting thing about those numbers is that the downward trend they show is occurring at a time when Auckland’s migration-driven population growth is increasing at record levels and construction of new housing continues to fall miserably below the numbers that are required, exacerbating the region’s growing housing shortage. How can this be? As you might expect, the market is being influenced by forces converging from several different directions.

One of the biggest changes to affect the Auckland market over the last few months has been the relative absence of local ethnic Chinese buyers. It would be hard to underestimate the impact they were having on Auckland’s residential property market up until about the end of the third quarter of last year. They dominated some of what are often called the “big room” auctions where several dozen properties could be auctioned in a single day, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to account for around 70% of sales. Often they were competing amongst themselves for properties and their bidding could be fierce. Sometimes it seemed as if the prices they were prepared to pay knew no limits. Then late last year, just as the market geared up for the summer selling season, the Chinese tide went out.

Auckland now has a significant population of Chinese people, so there will always be some who are actively buying or selling properties. But the numbers are well down on where they were a year ago. Auctions that were packed with Chinese buyers this time last year are now much quieter and Chinese faces are often more notable by their absence rather than their presence. When they are buying, they are more likely to be buying a home for themselves or perhaps their children than a pure investment property, and their bidding has been far more cautious than it was just a few months ago. Often they will bid on a property only to let it be passed in, figuring that they may not face much competition from other buyers in post-auction negotiations. With the odd exception, the days of the bidding frenzy are over.

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All for it.

House Panel Passes Bill To Audit The Fed (MW)

A House panel on Tuesday approved legislation that would let a government watchdog audit the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions, a move bitterly opposed by the central bank. The House Committee on oversight and government reform passed the measure by voice vote after roughly 30 minutes of debate. The bill was the brainchild of Ron Paul, the former House Republican and libertarian presidential candidate and sharp critic of the U.S. monetary policy. Versions of the bill have twice passed the House by wide margins but then stalled due to lack of support from Democrats in the Senate and the Obama administration. Analysts said the measure has a better chance to become law now that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House. Paul’s son, Rand, the Republican senator from Kentucky, has introduced a similar measure in the Senate.

Democrats in the committee were firmly against the bill. “This bill would open the floodgates to political interference in monetary-policy making,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from the District of Columbia. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said the measure would lead to higher interest rates because it would undermine the market’s confidence in the independence of the central bank. Republicans said the measure was needed to rein in the Fed. “It is ironic that the arsonists that caused the financial collapse are now being given credit…for putting out the fire. Almost every macroeconomist concedes in retrospect that [the Fed’s] extended period of easy money led to the financial crisis,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky.

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What good could it do to go to the Ninth Circuit Court at this point?

Hawaii Judge Places Indefinite Hold On Trump Travel Ban (BBC)

A US federal judge in Hawaii has indefinitely extended the suspension of President Trump’s new travel ban. Judge Derrick Watson’s ruling means Mr Trump will be barred from enforcing the ban on six mostly Muslim nations while it is contested in court. In a lawsuit, the US state says the ban would harm tourism and the ability to recruit foreign students and workers. President Trump says his revised travel ban seeks to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. Judge Watson made the ruling late on Wednesday after hearing arguments from attorneys for the state of Hawaii and the US Department of Justice. The judge turned his earlier temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction that would have a more lasting effect.

President Trump’s executive order on 6 March would have placed a 90-day ban on people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen and a 120-day ban on refugees. An earlier version of the order, issued in late January, sparked confusion and protests, and was blocked by a judge in Seattle. Other courts across the US have issued different rulings on Mr Trump’s revised ban, with a judge in Maryland halting a part of the ban earlier this month. Mr Trump has complained of “unprecedented judicial overreach”, pledging to take the case “as far as it needs to go”. An appeal against the Hawaii decision would be expected to go next to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – the same court which in February said it would not block a ruling by a Seattle court to halt the original travel ban.

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Because working together is so last century?!

Paul Ryan Opposes Trump Working With Democrats On Healthcare (R.)

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said he does not want President Donald Trump to work with Democrats on new legislation for revamping the country’s health insurance system, commonly called Obamacare. In an interview with “CBS This Morning” that will air on Thursday, Ryan said he fears the Republican Party, which failed last week to come together and agree on a healthcare overhaul, is pushing the president to the other side of the aisle so he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare. “I don’t want that to happen,” Ryan said, referring to Trump’s offer to work with Democrats. Carrying out those reforms with Democrats is “hardly a conservative thing,” Ryan said, according to interview excerpts released on Wednesday.

“I don’t want government running health care. The government shouldn’t tell you what you must do with your life, with your healthcare,” he said. On Tuesday, Trump told senators attending a White House reception that he expected lawmakers to reach a deal “very quickly” on healthcare, but he did not offer specifics. “I think it’s going to happen because we’ve all been promising – Democrat, Republican – we’ve all been promising that to the American people,” he said. Trump said after the failure of the Republican plan last week that Democrats, none of whom supported the bill, would be willing to negotiate new healthcare legislation because Obamacare is destined to “explode.”

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Who’s left to represent actual Americans?

Democrats Against Single Payer (Jacobin)

Virginia Democratic senator Chuck Robb, one of the DLC’s founders, warned in 1989 that “policies forged in the economic crisis of the 1930s and the social and cultural schisms of the 1960s” were irrelevant to most Americans. Two years later, Bill Clinton’s issue director Bruce Reed, who doubled as policy director for the DLC, made sure to distance Clinton from single payer. The issue flared up again during the 2008 Democratic primary fight, where both Obama and Hillary Clinton tried hedging their bets. Clinton put forward a plan that was basically Obamacare while insisting that “Medicare for All” could still be on the cards under the right circumstances. Meanwhile Obama repeatedly flip-flopped, at one point telling an audience that “the Canadian model won’t work in the United States” and that “we’ve got to develop a uniquely American approach,” and nine days later hinting to a different audience that over time single payer may be on the table.

DLC leaders felt reassured however, telling the New York Times they were “pleased that none of the Democratic candidates supports a single-payer health-care system.” So Democrats’ attempts to quell their base’s clamoring for a comprehensive, public health-care system isn’t new. What is new is the open, public disparagement of such a goal — not just by Democratic leaders, but by leading liberal commentators, too. Ironically, this appears largely to have been due to the Sanders campaign — or rather, the challenge it posed to Hillary Clinton’s previously wide-open road to the White House. Needing to differentiate herself from Sanders’s unabashed progressivism, and to dampen popular enthusiasm for his message, Clinton began attacking his policies, despite her historic sympathy toward single payer.

Sanders’s proposals were “ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in real life,” she told crowds; for good measure, she insisted that single-payer health care “will never, ever come to pass.” Two years earlier, she explained her opposition to the policy on the basis that “we don’t have a one size fits all; our country is quite diverse.” In January 2016, she warned breathlessly that Sanders’s plan would “end all the kinds of health care we know” and claimed it would “send health insurance to the states,” while her daughter warned that it would “dismantle Obamacare” and “strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

As late as October, Clinton’s team was still trying to distance herself from Trump’s accusation that she — heaven forbid! — “wants to go to a single-payer plan,” with her spokesman directing Politifact to an earlier fact-check confirming her lack of support for the policy. (Lest we mistake this for mere expediency, we can rest assured that at least some of the Clinton camp really felt this way: campaign manager John Podesta declared in an email to ThinkProgress editor-in-chief Judd Legum that Sanders’s “actual proposal sucks, but we live in a leftie alternative universe.”)

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Jim Quinn’s series on the similarities between Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and Strauss & Howe’s Fourth Turning.

American Empire Crumbling (Quinn)

You can hear the creaking as the winds of this Fourth Turning winter howl through the branches of this dying empire. Trump may have forced the Deep State Second Foundation to reveal itself as they seek to destroy him, but the relentless decline of the American Empire continues unabated. Tinkering around the edges of a healthcare system designed to benefit mega-corporations and the Deep State will do nothing to reverse or even delay the decline. Slowing the growth of government when the national debt is already $20 trillion and headed to $30 trillion within the next decade won’t cure the rot in our tree trunk. Completely ignoring the $200 trillion of unfunded welfare state liabilities helps accelerate the inevitable collapse of this empire. Cutting taxes while expanding the war making machine known as the military industrial complex does nothing to reverse what is already in motion.

In addition to the absolutely quantifiable reasons why the American Empire will collapse, there are demographic, cultural, and societal trends which will contribute dramatically to the fall. The rapidly aging populace, with 10,000 Americans per day turning 65 years old, is the driving force towards national bankruptcy, as this inexorable demographic tsunami sweeps over the fraying fabric of welfare state promises. The onslaught of illegal immigrants and purposeful execution of a plan by the effete liberal elite to weaken our common American culture through the insertion of Muslim refugees into our communities, is undermining the shared values which built the country. The immigrants who built this country assimilated, learned the language, worked hard, and adopted our common culture. The hordes invading America at this time hate our values and refuse to assimilate. This Soros funded effort to create diversity havoc throughout the world is part of the globalization one world order plan.

As Europe disintegrates under the unrelenting wave of violent refugees creating upheaval, chaos, and spreading religious zealotry through viciousness, the next target is the mighty American Empire. Fighting in the streets between the normal law abiding Trump supporters and the Soros funded, draped in black, flag burning, social justice warrior criminals has begun. Widespread societal strife is just around the corner. When the next financial crisis, created by the Deep State to further their plans, destroys the remaining wealth of the barely surviving middle class, all hell will break loose in the streets. The 86% of the country occupied by red state, gun owning, Trump supporters will openly go to war against the condescending, left wing, violence provoking blue state liberals. Blood will be spilled in copious amounts. It always does during Fourth Turnings.

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It cannot survive, period.

The EU Cannot Survive If It Sticks To Business As Usual (Varoufakis)

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, had for years opposed the idea of a Europe that proceeds at different speeds – allowing some countries to be less integrated than others, due to their domestic political situation. But now – after the colossal economic mismanagement of the euro crisis has weakened the EU’s legitimacy, given Eurosceptics a major impetus, and caused the EU to shift to an advanced stage of disintegration – Mrs Merkel and her fellow EU leaders seem to think that a multi-speed Europe is essential to keeping the bloc together. At the weekend, as EU leaders gathered to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, leaders of the remaining 27 member states signed the Rome Declaration, which says that they will “act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past.”

The failure to keep the EU together along a single path toward common values, a common market and a common currency will come to be embraced and rebranded as a new start, leading to a Europe in which a coalition of the willing will proceed with the original ambition while the rest form outer circles, connected to the inner core by unspecified bonds. In principle, such a manifold EU will allow for the East’s self-proclaimed illiberal democracies to remain in the single market, refusing to relocate a single refugee or to adhere to standards of press freedom and judicial independence that other European countries consider essential. Countries like Austria will be able to put up electrified fences around their borders. It could even leave the door open for the UK to return as part of one of Europe’s outer circles. Whether one approves of this vision or not, the fact is that its chances depend on a major prerequisite: a consolidated, stable eurozone.

One only needs to state this to recognize the second paradox of our post-Brexit reality: In its current state, the eurozone cannot provide the stability that the EU – and Europe more broadly – needs to survive. The refusal to deal rationally with the bankruptcy of the Greek state is a useful litmus test for the European establishment’s capacity to stabilize the eurozone. As it stands, the prospects for a stabilized eurozone do not look good. Business as usual – the establishment’s favored option – could soon produce a major Italian crisis that the eurozone cannot survive. The only alternative under discussion is a eurozone federation-light, with a tiny common budget that Berlin will agree to in exchange for direct control of French, Italian and Spanish national budgets. Even if this were to happen, which is doubtful given the political climate, it will be too little, too late to stabilize the eurozone.

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“Professor Jeremy Baumberg, director of the NanoPhotonic Centres at Cambridge University, was distinctly unimpressed. “It seems to me an extremely poorly written paper, conflating many ideas in a rather unrigorous mishmash,” he said.”

Capitalism Inevitably Creates A ‘Sad’ Unfair World – Physicist (Ind.)

Capitalism is inherently unfair and will produce a world full of ‘sad’ and disgusting inequalities, but Communism is also “doomed to fail”, a leading scientist claims to have proved using the laws of physics. Professor Adrian Bejan told The Independent he was so excited by the “huge” implications of his theory that he kept having to pinch himself. A former member of the Romanian national basketball team, he is now an expert in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics at Duke University in the US, having written 30 books and more than 600 scientific papers. He now claims to have shown that physics can essentially explain economics. Inequality has been seen as a factor in the election of Donald Trump as US President and in the UK referendum vote in favour of Brexit.According to Oxfam, the richest eight men own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population.

Professor Bejan said it was possible to explain how such inequality can develop by demonstrating that wealth moves around in a society like water in a river basin using the laws of physics. In a natural environment, water flows from small tributaries into larger and larger streams. And, according to Professor Bejan’s theory, the same is true of money. So, in a free market system, wealth will naturally flow from the poorest in the small tributaries to the richest in the wide rivers. Using this analogy, Communism is comparable to an attempt to restrict the flow of water to a network of equally sized concrete channels, which Professor Bejan said would inevitably be overcome by the forces of nature. But, just as humans do sometimes harness rivers to produce energy or divert them around cities, it is possible to alter the flow of money in society, he added.

And this is exactly what is being done by liberal democracies around the world with measures such as free education and healthcare, anti-trust regulations designed to prevent large corporations abusing their power, and the rule of law. “I want to see less inequality in the distribution of wealth. I get not just sad, but disgusted by it,” Professor Bejan said.

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Getting more popular by the day.

‘That Was Some Weird Shit’ (NYMag)

The inauguration of Donald Trump was a surreal experience for pretty much everyone who witnessed it, whether or not they were at the event and regardless of who they supported in the election. On the dais, the stoic presence of Hillary Clinton – whom candidate Trump had said he would send to prison if he took office – underlined the strangeness of the moment. George W. Bush, also savaged by Trump during the campaign, was there too. He gave the same reason for attending that Bill and Hillary Clinton did: to honor the peaceful transfer of power. Bush’s endearing struggle with his poncho at the event quickly became a meme, prompting many Democrats on social media to admit that they already pined for the relative normalcy of his administration. Following Trump’s short and dire speech, Bush departed the scene and never offered public comment on the ceremony. But, according to three people who were present, Bush gave a brief assessment of Trump’s inaugural after leaving the dais: “That was some weird shit.” All three heard him say it.

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On and on and on.

146 Feared Dead In Mediterranean, Boy The Sole Survivor (R.)

Dozens of people are feared to have drowned after a rubber boat carrying migrants and refugees from Libya sank in the Mediterranean. The sole survivor – a 16-year-old Gambian boy – told rescuers that 146 other people were on board when the boat sank. A Spanish frigate, the Canarias, found the boy hanging on to a piece of debris in the sea on Tuesday. He was transferred to an Italian Coast Guard ship and brought to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa early on Wednesday. “He was very tired when they found him. He’s resting now, so we’ll have more details later,” said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo in Rome, after speaking to staff in Lampedusa.

“The boy said they left Sabratha, Libya, a couple of days ago on a rubber boat with 147 sub-Saharan Africans on board, including five children and some pregnant women,” Di Giacomo said. In the past two days, rescuers have picked up more than 1,100 migrants at sea and recovered one body, Italy’s Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard did not comment on the latest shipwreck. So far this year nearly 600 migrants have died trying to reach Italy from North Africa, IOM estimates, after 4,600 deaths last year. Migrant arrivals to Italy are up more than 50% this year on the same period of last year. Early on Wednesday the Golfo Azzurro, a humanitarian vessel, rescued about 400 migrants – mainly from Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Gambia and Bangladesh – including 16 women and two children.

Read more …

Mar 242017
 
 March 24, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC “Broad Street and curb market, New York” 1906

 


Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)
The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)
‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)
The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)
WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)
China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)
China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)
Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)
Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)
Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)
Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)
40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)
EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)
Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

 

 

This will attract some media attention. Better do it after the markets close.

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)

President Donald Trump reportedly laid down an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Pass the health-care bill, as is, on Friday, or live with Obamacare. The hard line came after more than a day of frantic negotiations to win the support of conservative Republicans who oppose the bill, and could block its passage. A vote on the bill had been scheduled for Thursday night, but was postponed earlier in the day after the GOP couldn’t win over holdout lawmakers. White House budget director Mitch Mulvaney dropped Trump’s demand in a meeting with rank-and-file House Republicans, and said the administration and House Speaker Paul Ryan were done with negotiations, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. If Friday’s bill fails, Trump is resigned to live with Obamacare and move on, he said.

CNN similarly reported that the closed-door meeting ended with an ultimatum, and Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told the network that the vote is expected to be held Friday afternoon. The move is a gamble by the Trump administration, which has placed much political capital in its promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “They’re going to bring it up, pass or fail,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the Washington Post. The GOP can’t afford more than 21 dissenting votes, but CNN counted 26 “no” votes and four more “likely” no votes. Every House Democrat is expected to oppose the bill.

Read more …

And what’s worse, no way out.

The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)

If the American Healthcare Act, President Trump’s first major legislative effort, is going to a vote in the House of Representatives as scheduled on Thursday, it is by no means clear that it will receive the 215 votes it needs for passage. When the Republican healthcare plan was first presented to the public on March 6, it left people from both sides of the political spectrum dissatisfied. While Democrats fear that the suggested bill, which would repeal large portions of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would leave millions of Americans uninsured and hurt the poor and vulnerable, many Republicans think it doesn’t go far enough in erasing all traces of Obamacare.

For many years now, the American healthcare system has been flawed. As our chart illustrates, U.S. health spending per capita (including public and private spending) is higher than it is anywhere else in the world, and yet, the country lags behind other nations in several aspects such as life expectancy and health insurance coverage. This chart shows health spending (public and private) per capita in selected countries.

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Not my original observation, but true: it looks a lot like Russia in the 1990s.

‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)

In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a surprising conclusion: Middle-aged white Americans are dying younger for the first time in decades, despite positive life expectancy trends in other wealthy countries and other segments of the US population. The research, by Princeton University’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton, highlighted the links between economic struggles, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses. Since then, Case and Deaton have been working to more fully explain their findings. They’ve now come to a compelling conclusion: It’s complicated. There’s no single reason for this disturbing increase in the mortality rate, but a toxic cocktail of factors. In a new 60-page paper, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” out in draft form in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Thursday, the researchers weave a narrative of “cumulative disadvantage” over a lifetime for white people ages 45 through 54, particularly those with low levels of education.

[..] The US, particularly middle-aged white Americans, is an outlier in the developed world when it comes to this mid-life mortality uptick. “Mortality rates in comparable rich countries have continued their pre-millennial fall at the rates that used to characterize the US,” Case and Deaton write. “In contrast to the US, mortality rates in Europe are falling for those with low levels of educational attainment, and are doing so more rapidly than mortality rates for those with higher levels of education.” If American wants to turn the trend around, then it has to become a little more like other countries with more generous safety nets and more accessible health care, the researchers said.

Introducing a single-payer health system, for example, or value-added or goods and services taxes that support a stronger safety net would be top of their policy wish list. (America right now is, of course, moving in the opposite direction under Trump, and shredding the safety net.) They also admit, though, that it’s taken decades to reverse the mortality progress in America, and it won’t be turned around quickly or easily. But there is one “no-brainer” change that could help, Case added. “The easy thing would be close the tap on prescription opioids for chronic pain.” Unlike health care and increasing taxes, opioids are actually a public health issue with bipartisan support. Deaton, for his part, was hopeful. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, he said, “All policy seems impossible until it suddenly becomes inevitable.”

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“Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013..” “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months. Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess. Some retailers are exiting the brick-and-mortar business altogether and trying to shift to an all-online model. For example, Bebe is closing all its stores — about 170 — to focus on increasing its online sales, according to a Bloomberg report. The Limited also recently shut down all 250 of its stores, but it still sells merchandise online.

Others, such as Sears and JCPenney, are aggressively paring down their store counts to unload unprofitable locations and try to staunch losses. Sears is shutting down about 10% of its Sears and Kmart locations, or 150 stores, and JCPenney is shutting down about 14% of its locations, or 138 stores. According to many analysts, the retail apocalypse has been a long time coming in the US, where stores per capita far outnumber that of any other country. The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar Credit Ratings report from October. Visits to shopping malls have been declining for years with the rise of e-commerce and titanic shifts in how shoppers spend their money. Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman & Wakefield.

[..] as longtime retail analyst Howard Davidowitz observed in 2014, “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

Read more …

This could be a huge blow to Apple. Who wants to buy something the CIA has already tinkered with in the factory? Expect giant lawsuits too. Apple knew.

WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)

Today, March 23rd 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”, which contains documentation for several CIA projects that infect Apple Mac Computer firmware (meaning the infection persists even if the operating system is re-installed) developed by the CIA’s Embedded Development Branch (EDB). These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain ‘persistence’ on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware. Among others, these documents reveal the “Sonic Screwdriver” project which, as explained by the CIA, is a “mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting” allowing an attacker to boot its attack software for example from a USB stick “even when a firmware password is enabled”. The CIA’s “Sonic Screwdriver” infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter.

“DarkSeaSkies” is “an implant that persists in the EFI firmware of an Apple MacBook Air computer” and consists of “DarkMatter”, “SeaPea” and “NightSkies”, respectively EFI, kernel-space and user-space implants. Documents on the “Triton” MacOSX malware, its infector “Dark Mallet” and its EFI-persistent version “DerStake” are also included in this release. While the DerStake1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.

Also included in this release is the manual for the CIA’s “NightSkies 1.2” a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone. Noteworthy is that NightSkies had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. i.e the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008. While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization’s supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments (opening, infecting, and resending) leaving the United States or otherwise.

Read more …

A lot of cities around the world share that risk.

China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)

China faces the risk of youth disenchantment as property prices rise beyond their reach, a renowned Chinese economist said Friday. “In a regular country, wealth should be concentrated in the financial markets, not fixed assets,” said Renmin University of China Vice President Wu Xiaoqiu at a media interview at the Boao Forum in the province of Hainan. He highlighted the risks from the current property bubble in China, such as negative asset values if prices tank. More importantly, the social risks that come from the property bubble in the form of youth disenchantment with not being to afford a home will be damaging, he said. “If young people lose hope, the economy will suffer, as housing is a necessity,” he said.

Wu said he was hopeful the authorities would find a solution to constrain the froth in Chinese real estate, but admitted that repeated measures to curb speculation have so far only met with short-term success. Wu’s comments follow a People’s Bank of China survey published on Tuesday, which found that 52.2% of urban households perceived housing prices to be “unacceptably high” in the first quarter of the year, Reuters reported. In February, gains in Chinese home prices picked up pace after they slowed in the previous four months despite government efforts to curb speculation, Reuters reported on Sunday. Prices in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen rose 22.1%, 21.1% and 13.5%, respectively, from a year ago.

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Wow.

China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)

In December 2016, Muddy Waters’ Carson Block said China’s largest dairy farm operator, Hong-Kong listed China Huishan Dairy, is “worth close to zero” and questioned its profitability in a report. Today, with no catalyst, it suddenly almost is. The stock collapsed over 90% in minutes to a record low. The sudden crash wiped out about $4.2 billion in market value in the stock, which is a member of the MSCI China Index.

In December, Muddy Waters alleged that Huishan had been overstating its spending on its cow farms by as much as 1.6 billion yuan to “support the company’s income statement.” The report also alleged that the company made an unannounced transfer of a subsidiary that owned at least four cow farms to an undisclosed related party and Muddy Waters concluded that Chairman Yang Kai controls the subsidiary and farms. Those findings came from several months of research including visits to 35 farms and five production facilities, drone flyovers of Huishan sites and interviews with alfalfa suppliers, according to the report. Muddy Waters said it has shorted Huishan’s stock.

“It will be even harder for Huishan to get funded in the capital market after the report, amid a couple of earlier allegations that have raised some red flags to investors,” said Robin Yuen at RHB OSK Securities Hong Kong. Still, Huishan’s shares and operations are unlikely to “collapse” due to its high share concentration and sufficient cash flow generated by its dairy business, he said by telephone. About 73% of Huishan’s shares are held by Champ Harvest Ltd., a company that’s in turn 90% owned by Yang. A buying spree by Yang had supported the shares last year, making it a painful trade for short sellers. A one-year rally of about 80% through a peak in June had made the shares expensive.

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“If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.”

Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)

For the last three years, the political establishment in Italy and beyond have had a field day attacking, ridiculing, and vilifying Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement. Europe’s media have tarred him with the brush of populism. In 2013 The Economist labelled him a clown on its front cover. Yet his party still leads the polls. And that lead is growing. A new Ipsos poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper has put Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement on 32.3% – its highest ever reading. It placed 5.5 points ahead of the governing PD, on 26.8%, after the PD dropped more than three%age points in a month, as former prime minister Matteo Renzi battles to reassert his authority following a walkout by a left-wing faction. Internal political battles are nothing new in Italy. The country enjoys a hard-earned reputation for political instability and paralysis, having seen 63 governments come and go since 1945.

The problem this time around is that internal weakness and strife in Italy’s traditional center-left and center-right parties could end up gifting the next election to a party that refuses to play by the book. If it wins the next elections, which could be brought forward to as early as June this year, 5-Star Movement has pledged to hold a referendum of its own – albeit a non-binding one – on Italy’s membership of the euro. As polls have shown, there is much broader public apathy toward the single currency than in just about any other euro zone nation. Grillo’s plan could also receive the backing of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who is determined to pull off a political comeback and is talking of restoring the Italian Lira.

As Reuters reports, such a scenario could spook financial markets “wary of both the 5-Star’s euroskepticism and the threat of prolonged political instability in Italy,” which boasts a public debt burden of over €2 trillion (133% of GDP). In any normal situation that would be a problem. But Italy is not in a normal situation; it is on the cusp of a potentially very large financial crisis that, if mishandled, could bring down Europe’s entire financial system. Unlike many other Eurozone economies like Spain, Ireland Portugal, Italy did not experience a real estate or stock market bubble in the 2000s; nor were its banks heavily exposed to the financial derivatives that helped spread the fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis all around the world. As such, Italy has not had cause to bail out its financial system — until now.

[..] Italy’s current predicament is a multi-headed hydra: a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one, and all coming to a head at the same time. It’s the reason why economists including Deutsche Bank’s Marco Stringa are calling Italy, not France or Greece, the “main risk” to euro-area stability. From a Eurozone-stability point of view, and from a bondholder point of view, the best-case scenario would be the rescue of Italy’s banks, with taxpayers bearing most of the brunt. That should help steady investor nerves and put an end to the gathering exodus of funds out of Italian assets. But even then, the social, political and economic price to be paid in a country already with public debt of over €2 trillion, youth unemployment of almost 40%, and an economy that is 12% smaller than it was 10 years ago, will almost certainly be way too high. If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.

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He’s blowing up the EU without noticing a thing.

Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday criticised Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for saying Germany should provide more money for Greece and the European Union overall. Schaueble told Deutschlandfunk radio he was annoyed by Gabriel’s suggestion because it “goes in the wrong direction completely” and sent the wrong message. He added that Europe’s problem was not primarily money but that its money needed to be used in the right way. On whether Greece can stay in the euro zone, Schaeuble said: “Greece can only do that if it has a competitive economy.” He said the country needed to carry out reforms and that would take time, adding: “But if the time is not used to carry out reforms because that’s uncomfortable, then that’s the wrong path.”

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Feels like a funeral party.

Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)

Greece has stuck to its objections to a declaration to mark the European Union’s 60th anniversary, officials in Brussels and Athens said on Thursday, a potentially embarrassing setback for the bloc as it seeks to rebuild unity ahead of Brexit. The leaders of the EU’s 27 remaining states will mark the anniversary on Saturday at a gathering in Rome overshadowed by Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave. London is due to formally trigger the divorce negotiations next week. Athens has threatened not to sign the Rome declaration charting the future of the post-Brexit EU, making a link between agreeing to the text and separate talks on reforms that lenders are seeking from Greece in exchange for new loans. “The negotiations on the draft Rome Declaration have ended as the text was finalized by the EU27,” an EU source said. “Only Greece has a general reservation on the text.”

Greece has said it wants the Rome text to spell out more clearly the protection of labor rights. Greece’s separate debt talks with international lenders are now stuck over this specific issue. One diplomat in Brussels said the issue may now only be resolved at the highest level with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Another EU diplomat said any attempt by Athens to win leverage on the international debt talks by holding off in Rome should not succeed: “We won’t be blackmailed by one member state which is linking one EU issue with a totally different one.” As well as Greece, Poland indicated on Thursday it might also refuse to endorse the declaration, though diplomats played down the threat. Warsaw is particularly opposed to a ‘multi-speed Europe,’ an idea promoted by Germany, France and Brussels, among others, to help improve decision-making in the post-Brexit EU.

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“Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)

Greece will support a declaration marking the EU’s 60th birthday but needs the bloc’s backing against IMF demands on labour reforms, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said ahead of a Summit in Rome on Friday. In a letter addressed to EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Tsipras called for a clear statement on whether the declaration would apply to Greece, as talks over a key bailout review hit a snag again. “We intend to support the Rome Declaration, a document which moves in a positive direction,” Tsipras said. “Nevertheless, in order to be able to celebrate these achievements, it has to be made clear, on an official level, whether they apply also to Greece. Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Earlier this week, Greece threatened not to sign the Rome declaration, demanding a clearer commitment protecting workers’ rights – an issue on which it is at odds with its international lenders who demand more reforms in return for new loans. The disagreements among Athens, the EU and the IMF – which has yet to decide whether it will participate in the country’s current bailout – have delayed a crucial bailout review. As leaders prepared for the summit, Greek ministers were negotiating with lenders’ representatives in Brussels pension cuts and labour reforms, including freeing up mass layoffs and on collective bargaining. The latest round of talks ended inconclusively late on Thursday, according to Greek officials. [..] Greece has cut pensions 12 times since it signed up to its first bailout in 2010. It has also reduced wages and implemented labour reforms to make its market more flexible and competitive.

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Just imagine that. And then talk about recovery. No, all you need to do is reform!

40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)

Four in 10 Greek businesses (40.3%) consider it likely that they will have to close shop within the year, according to a survey by the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), presented by the ANA-MPA news agency on Thursday. According to the survey, around 18,700 businesses will close in the first six months of the year, forcing thousands to join growing unemployment lines in the crisis-hit country. The majority of shutdowns, according to GSEVEE, will be in and around the capital and will concern the manufacturing sector, while some 34,000 jobs will be lost by the closure of companies that are currently considered high risk. 7 in 10 businesses have reported increasing liquidity problems and a shortage of capital from the market, with the number of firms indebted to the state and their suppliers growing by 10% compared to last year.

Over four in five small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) admit to being exposed to credit risks, seeing a slump in economic activity and operating with the prospect of shrinking rather than expanding in the near future. In terms of employment, the forecasts for the first half of the year do not bode well, as for every two businesses (8.1% of the total) that plan to hire new staff, another three will be letting people go. GSEVEE estimates that 2,000 salaried jobs will be lost by June, without accounting for the impact on employment of the projected shutdowns. Moreover, 40% of those businesses that do plan to hire staff in the first half of 2017 said they won’t be offering payroll positions, but part-time or outsourced work.

Sentiment is also bleak, with 58.8% of respondents expecting conditions to deteriorate and just 11% seeing a possible improvement through June. As such, just 3.6% of businesses plan to make new investments and 6.4% have applied to investment funding programs for that period. “There needs to be a national plan for the country irrespective of who is in power, and politicians need to learn how to make decisions and give orders,” GSEVEE President Giorgos Kavvathas was quoted by the ANA-MPA news agency as saying. “Moreover, the uncertainty of the situation concerning the outcome of the negotiation [with foreign creditors] exacerbates fears and risks, which in turn make small businesses and the self-employed more vulnerable.”

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Could be another scary spring and summer.

EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)

European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday underlined the need to safeguard a deal between Brussels and Ankara to curb human smuggling in the Aegean, noting that some 3 million refugees were in Turkey waiting to cross into Greece in a bid to reach Western and Northern Europe. In comments during a visit to Athens, Avramopoulos said the deal signed last year between Turkey and the EU had reduced an influx of migrants toward Europe and curbed deaths at sea. Reception centers on the islands of the eastern Aegean, the first point of arrival for most migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey, are already overcrowded. A woman and a child were injured in clashes between Afghan and Algerian migrants on Chios on Wednesday night.

Read more …

We’re on track for multiple records.

Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

More than 250 African migrants were feared drowned in the Mediterranean Thursday after a charity’s rescue boat found five corpses close to two sinking rubber dinghies off Libya. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was “deeply alarmed” after the Golfo Azzuro, a boat operated by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, reported the recovery of the bodies close to the drifting, partially-submerged dinghies, 15 miles off the Libyan coast. “We don’t think there can be any other explanation than that these dinghies would have been full of people,” Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP. “It seems clear that they sunk.” She added that the inflatables, of a kind usually used by people traffickers, would typically have been carrying 120-140 migrants each.

“In over a year we have never seen any of these dinghies that were anything other than packed.” Lanuza said the bodies recovered were African men with estimated ages of between 16 and 25. They had drowned in the 24 hours prior to them being discovered shortly after dawn on Thursday in waters directly north of the Libyan port of Sabrata, according to the rescue boat’s medical staff. Vincent Cochetel, director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)’s Europe bureau, said NGO boats patrolling the area had been called to the aid of a third stricken boat on Thursday afternoon, raising fears others may have perished on what Proactiva called “a black day in the Mediterranean.”

Despite rough winter seas, migrant departures from Libya on boats chartered by people traffickers have accelerated in recent months from already-record levels. Nearly 6,000 people have been picked up by Italian-coordinated rescue boats since the end of last week, bringing the number brought to Italy since the start of 2017 to nearly 22,000, a significant rise on the same period in previous years. Aid groups say the accelerating exodus is being driven by worsening living conditions for migrants in Libya and by fears the sea route to Europe could soon be closed to traffickers. Prior to the latest fatal incident, the UN had estimated that at least 440 migrants had died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy since the start of 2017. Its refugee agency estimates total deaths crossing the Mediterranean at nearly 600.

Read more …

Mar 082017
 
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Dorothea Lange A Family Of Mexican Migrants, On The Road In California 1936

 


Wikileaks ‘Vault 7’, Largest Ever Publication Of Confidential CIA Docs (ZH)
Snowden: What The Wikileaks Revelations Show Is “Reckless Beyond Words” (ZH)
WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged CIA Hacking Documents (NYT)
Wikileaks: CIA Capable Of Cyber “False Flag” Attack To Blame Russia (TAM)
CIA Contractor on #VAULT7 Leak: ‘There is Heavy Shit Coming Down’ (RF)
US Trade Deficit Jumps To Five-Year High On Imports (R.)
China Posts Rare Trade Deficit As February Imports Surge in Yuan Terms (R.)
Why Are Europe’s Small Central Banks Stocking Up Foreign Money? (WSJ)
Dispel The Economic Myths That Hold Women Back (Ann Pettifor)
Austerity Is A Feminist Issue (G.)
The Women’s Protest That Sparked The Russian Revolution (G.)
Vacant Homes Are A Global Epidemic (BD)
There’s No Housing Bubble in Australia, Heads of Big Banks Say (BBG)
Australian Lenders Are Handing Out Mortgages Like Confetti (LF)
Greece’s Still-Falling GDP Dispels Creditors’ “Recovery” Myth (Prime)
Tax Weary Greek Employers Pay In Kind As Creditor Demands Rise (BBG)
America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations (Atlantic)

 

 

It’s obvious there is only one story today, which ironically(?!) blows the whole Trump-Russia accusation narrative to bits, even though of course Russia gets the blame for this too in all sorts of corners. But the files are reported to have been ‘out there’ for a while, in the hands of hackers and possible foreign agencies. The CIA spent a huge wad of taxpayer money on this, and then lost it all. It’s early days to say what this will mean for the agency’s abilities, and the nation’s safety, as well as that of American citizens, but it’s not good. Question is: who’s going to investigate how this could have happened? (Snowden and Kim Dotcom could)… And who’s going to repair the damage done? Anyone could be spying on your phone and your TV by now, not just the CIA -as if that wouldn’t be bad enough.

And this is just the first part. Wikileaks has announced more from where this came from.

Wikileaks ‘Vault 7’, Largest Ever Publication Of Confidential CIA Docs (ZH)

A total of 8,761 documents have been published as part of ‘Year Zero’, the first in a series of leaks the whistleblower organization has dubbed ‘Vault 7.’ WikiLeaks said that ‘Year Zero’ revealed details of the CIA’s “global covert hacking program,” including “weaponized exploits” used against company products including “Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”

WikiLeaks tweeted the leak, which it claims came from a network inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia.

Among the more notable disclosures which, if confirmed, “would rock the technology world“, the CIA had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

Another profound revelation is that the CIA can engage in “false flag” cyberattacks which portray Russia as the assailant. Discussing the CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s UMBRAGE group, Wikileaks’ source notes that it “collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.

“With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from. UMBRAGE components cover keyloggers, password collection, webcam capture, data destruction, persistence, privilege escalation, stealth, anti-virus (PSP) avoidance and survey techniques.”

As Kim Dotcom summarizes this finding, “CIA uses techniques to make cyber attacks look like they originated from enemy state. It turns DNC/Russia hack allegation by CIA into a JOKE

But perhaps what is most notable is the purported emergence of another Snowden-type whistleblower: the source of the information told WikiLeaks in a statement that they wish to initiate a public debate about the “security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”  Policy questions that should be debated in public include “whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency,” WikiLeaks claims the source said.

The FAQ section of the release, shown below, provides further details on the extent of the leak, which was “obtained recently and covers through 2016”. The time period covered in the latest leak is between the years 2013 and 2016, according to the CIA timestamps on the documents themselves. Secondly, WikiLeaks has asserted that it has not mined the entire leak and has only verified it, asking that journalists and activists do the leg work.

Among the various techniques profiled by WikiLeaks is “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.

As Kim Dotcom chimed in on Twitter, “CIA turns Smart TVs, iPhones, gaming consoles and many other consumer gadgets into open microphones” and added ” CIA turned every Microsoft Windows PC in the world into spyware. Can activate backdoors on demand, including via Windows update”

Dotcom also added that “Obama accused Russia of cyberattacks while his CIA turned all internet enabled consumer electronics in Russia into listening devices. Wow!”

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor stated that “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’. Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons’, which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade. But the significance of “Year Zero” goes well beyond the choice between cyberwar and cyberpeace. The disclosure is also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”

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“…first public evidence US [Government] secretly paying to keep US software unsafe”

Snowden: What The Wikileaks Revelations Show Is “Reckless Beyond Words” (ZH)

While it has been superficially covered by much of the press – and one can make the argument that what Julian Assange has revealed is more relevant to the US population, than constant and so far unconfirmed speculation that Trump is a puppet of Putin – the fallout from the Wikileaks’ “Vault 7” release this morning of thousands of documents demonstrating the extent to which the CIA uses backdoors to hack smartphones, computer operating systems, messenger applications and internet-connected televisions, will be profound. As evidence of this, the WSJ cites an intelligence source who said that “the revelations were far more significant than the leaks of Edward Snowden.”

Mr. Snowden’s leaks revealed names of programs, companies that assist the NSA in surveillance and in some cases the targets of American spying. But the recent leak purports to contain highly technical details about how surveillance is carried out. That would make them far more revealing and useful to an adversary, this person said. In one sense, Mr. Snowden provided a briefing book on U.S. surveillance, but the CIA leaks could provide the blueprints. Speaking of Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, who now appears to have a “parallel whisteblower” deep inside the “Deep State”, i.e., the source of the Wikileaks data – also had some thoughts on today’s CIA dump.

In a series of tweets, Snowden notes that “what @Wikileaks has here is genuinely a big deal”, and makes the following key observations “If you’re writing about the [email protected] story, here’s the big deal: first public evidence USG secretly paying to keep US software unsafe” and adds that “the CIA reports show the USG developing vulnerabilities in US products, then intentionally keeping the holes open. Reckless beyond words.” He then asks rhetorically “Why is this dangerous?” and explains “Because until closed, any hacker can use the security hole the CIA left open to break into any iPhone in the world.” His conclusion, one which many of the so-called conspiratorial bent would say was well-known long ago: “Evidence mounts showing CIA & FBI knew about catastrophic weaknesses in the most-used smartphones in America, but kept them open – to spy.”

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“..WikiLeaks, which has sometimes been accused of recklessly leaking information that could do harm, said it had redacted names and other identifying information from the collection. It said it was not releasing the computer code for actual, usable weapons “until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the C.I.A.’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should be analyzed, disarmed and published.”

WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged CIA Hacking Documents (NYT)

In what appears to be the largest leak of C.I.A documents in history, WikiLeaks released on Tuesday thousands of pages describing sophisticated software tools and techniques used by the agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions. The documents amount to a detailed, highly technical catalog of tools. They include instructions for compromising a wide range of common computer tools for use in spying: the online calling service Skype; Wi-Fi networks; documents in PDF format; and even commercial antivirus programs of the kind used by millions of people to protect their computers. A program called Wrecking Crew explains how to crash a targeted computer, and another tells how to steal passwords using the autocomplete function on Internet Explorer. Other programs were called CrunchyLimeSkies, ElderPiggy, AngerQuake and McNugget.

The document dump was the latest coup for the antisecrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which uses its hacking abilities to carry out espionage against foreign targets. The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first installment in a larger collection of secret C.I.A. material, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, many of them partly redacted by WikiLeaks editors to avoid disclosing the actual code for cyberweapons. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, the group claimed. In one revelation that may especially trouble the tech world if confirmed, WikiLeaks said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services have managed to compromise both Apple and Android smartphones, allowing their officers to bypass the encryption on popular services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate smartphones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

Unlike the National Security Agency documents Edward J. Snowden gave to journalists in 2013, they do not include examples of how the tools have been used against actual foreign targets. That could limit the damage of the leak to national security. But the breach was highly embarrassing for an agency that depends on secrecy. Robert M. Chesney, a specialist in national security law at the University of Texas at Austin, likened the C.I.A. trove to National Security Agency hacking tools disclosed last year by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. “If this is true, it says that N.S.A. isn’t the only one with an advanced, persistent problem with operational security for these tools,” Mr. Chesney said. “We’re getting bit time and again.”

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No ‘evidence’ (and remember none was provided to date) of Russian spying is the least bit credible anymore after today.

Wikileaks: CIA Capable Of Cyber “False Flag” Attack To Blame Russia (TAM)

According to a Wikileaks press release, the 8,761 newly published files came from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI) in Langley, Virginia. The release says that the UMBRAGE group, a subdivision of the center’s Remote Development Branch (RDB), has been collecting and maintaining a “substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states, including the Russian Federation.” As Wikileaks notes, the UMBRAGE group and its related projects allow the CIA to misdirect the attribution of cyber attacks by “leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the very groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.”

In other words, the CIA’s sophisticated hacking tools all have a “signature” marking them as originating from the agency. In order to avoid arousing suspicion as to the true extent of its covert cyber operations, the CIA has employed UMBRAGE’s techniques in order to create signatures that allow multiple attacks to be attributed to various entities – instead of the real point of origin at the CIA – while also increasing its total number of attack types. Other parts of the release similarly focus on avoiding the attribution of cyberattacks or malware infestations to the CIA during forensic reviews of such attacks. In a document titled “Development Tradecraft DOs and DON’Ts,” hackers and code writers are warned “DO NOT leave data in a binary file that demonstrates CIA, U.S. [government] or its witting partner companies’ involvement in the creation or use of the binary/tool.” It then states that “attribution of binary/tool/etc. by an adversary can cause irreversible impacts to past, present and future U.S. [government] operations and equities.”

While a major motivating factor in the CIA’s use of UMBRAGE is to cover it tracks, events over the past few months suggest that UMBRAGE may have been used for other, more nefarious purposes. After the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election shocked many within the U.S. political establishment and corporate-owned media, the CIA emerged claiming that Russia mounted a “covert intelligence operation” to help Donald Trump edge out his rival Hillary Clinton.[..] the U.S. intelligence community’s assertions that Russia used cyber-attacks to interfere with the election overshadowed reports that the U.S. government had actually been responsible for several hacking attempts that targeted state election systems.

For instance, the state of Georgia reported numerous hacking attempts on its election agencies’ networks, nearly all of which were traced back to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Now that the CIA has been shown to not only have the capability but also the express intention of replacing the “fingerprint” of cyber-attacks it conducts with those of another state actor, the CIA’s alleged evidence that Russia hacked the U.S. election – or anything else for that matter – is immediately suspect. There is no longer any way to determine if the CIA’s proof of Russian hacks on U.S. infrastructure is legitimate, as it could very well be a “false flag” attack.

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“..we come to find out the same people who told us the Russians were our enemy, revealing corruption and depravity on a monumental scale via the Podesta emails, they were, in fact, the ones spying on us all along – both lying and mocking us like Lords in a fiefdom.”

CIA Contractor on #VAULT7 Leak: ‘There is Heavy Shit Coming Down’ (RF)

Everything that Wikileaks has revealed over the past year has hurt both the integrity and honor of the United States. The question you have to grapple with, is it well deserved? After all, living inside of a vast and powerful empire has its benefits. As the empire expands, so does the wealth of its citizens. But it hasn’t worked out that way, has it? The CIA deep staters have turned their guns on the people they serve – using third world banana republic tactics to silence opposition, take down regimes not beholden to their world view, using advanced technology to both spy and monitor on American citizens – infringing on our civil rights like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The reason for the populist uprising and the lack of equanimity amongst those traditionally supportive of the CIA lies in the improper distribution of the spoils of war. There aren’t any.

All the average American has received from $10 trillion in Obama inspired deficit spending is American casualties of war, jobs lost to cheaper labor overseas, expensive oil prices, expensive healthcare, and run away education costs – along with a sundry of social disturbances that have people fed up. While the elite flaunt hedonistic lifestyles, eschewing basic decency for the perverse, normies get more of the same old bullshit. After electing a true agent of change in Donald Trump, the people are laughed at and impugned by the elitist media. Their President is set upon by ‘permanent government’ officials in the intelligence agencies – whose only goal is to derail and destroy his term before it even begins.

Then we come to find out the same people who told us the Russians were our enemy, revealing corruption and depravity on a monumental scale via the Podesta emails, they were, in fact, the ones spying on us all along – both lying and mocking us like Lords in a fiefdom. Here’s Fox News reporting on the latest scandal to hit the wires, #VAULT7 Fox New sources inside the CIA said the agency was running around like headless chickens, saying ‘there is heavy shit coming down.’

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US exports are plunging. 10.7% to Germany, 13.4% to China.

US Trade Deficit Jumps To Five-Year High On Imports (R.)

The U.S. trade deficit jumped to a near five-year high in January as cell phones and rising oil prices helped to push up the import bill, suggesting trade would again weigh on economic growth in the first quarter. The Commerce Department said on Tuesday the trade gap increased 9.6% to $48.5 billion, the highest level since March 2012. The deficit was in line with economists forecasts. December’s trade shortfall was unrevised at $44.3 billion. When adjusted for inflation, the trade deficit rose to $65.3 billion from $62.0 billion in December. Both the inflation-adjusted exports and imports were the highest on record in January.

The wider trade gap added to weak data such as housing starts, consumer and construction spending in suggesting the economy struggled to regain momentum early in the first quarter after growth slowed to a 1.9% annualized rate in the final three months of 2016. The economy grew at a 3.5% pace in the third quarter. Trade cut 1.7 percentage points from GDP in the fourth quarter. The Atlanta Fed is forecasting GDP rising at a 1.8% rate in the first quarter. The dollar was trading marginally higher, while prices for U.S. government bonds were little changed. U.S. stock index futures were slightly lower. The Trump administration is eyeing trade as it seeks 4% annual GDP growth. President Donald Trump has vowed sweeping changes to U.S. trade policy, starting with pulling out of the 12-nation TPP.

[..] The bulk of the increase in the trade-weighted value of the greenback occurred in the final months of 2016 and will probably take a while to reflect in the trade data. Exports to Germany tumbled 10.7%. A Trump trade adviser has accused Germany of unfairly benefiting from a weak euro. Shipments of goods to China, also singled out by the Trump administration, dropped 13.4%. The politically sensitive U.S.-China trade deficit increased 12.8% to $31.3 billion in January, while the trade gap with Germany fell 8.0% to $4.9 billion. The United States also saw its trade deficit with Mexico shrink 10.1% to its lowest level since July 2015.

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We need to see: 1) dollar terms and 2) Lunar New Year distortions.

China Posts Rare Trade Deficit As February Imports Surge in Yuan Terms (R.)

China unexpectedly posted a rare trade deficit in February as imports surged far more than expected to feed a months-long construction boom, driven by commodities from iron ore and copper to crude oil and coal. Imports in yuan-denominated terms surged 44.7 percent from a year earlier, while exports rose 4.2 percent, official data showed on Wednesday. That left the country with a trade deficit of 60.63 billion yuan ($8.79 billion) for the month, the General Administration of Customs said. Customs has not yet published dollar-denominated trade figures, on which most economists and investors base their forecasts and analysis. Apart from currency fluctuations, higher commodity prices and the timing of the long Lunar New year holidays early in the year also may have distorted the data.

Most of China’s commodity imports grew strongly in volume terms from a year earlier, but dipped from January. Still, economists say the upbeat readings reinforced a growing view that economic activity in China and globally picked up in the first two months of the year. That could give China’s policymakers more confidence to press ahead with oft-delayed and painful structural reforms such as tackling a mountain of debt. Containing the risks from years of debt-fueled stimulus and heavy spending has been a major focus at the annual meeting of China’s parliament which began on Sunday.

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They know something?!

Why Are Europe’s Small Central Banks Stocking Up Foreign Money? (WSJ)

Europe’s smaller central banks are loading up on foreign currencies at rates usually associated with periods of intense global stress, highlighting the fragile underpinnings of the global economic recovery despite the recent upbeat mood in financial markets. Switzerland’s holdings of foreign assets jumped last month at their fastest pace in over two years as its central bank fought the strong franc, which weakens exports and inflation. The Czech central bank intervened in January on a massive scale to maintain its currency target against the euro. Denmark has also stepped up its foreign-currency purchases to keep the krone from strengthening too much. These central banks are showing crisis-like behavior to protect their currencies even in the absence of obvious trouble. This exposes them to losses if their currencies fail to weaken on their own.

It also raises doubts as to how long they can keep this up in an era when economic and political uncertainties appear to be a lasting feature of the world economy. “There is a little bit of survivor behavior,” said Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank. “They’ve been protecting their currencies so long and it’s hard to give up that defensive position.” The Swiss National Bank said Tuesday its foreign exchange reserves swelled nearly 25 billion Swiss francs ($24.63 billion) last month to 668 billion francs, the biggest rise since December 2014, the month before the Swiss abandoned a cap on the franc’s value. The pile of foreign reserves is greater than Switzerland’s entire gross domestic product. “It’s quite bizarre. You’d think at some time you’d run out of surprises,” said Stefan Gerlach, chief economist at BSI Bank in Zurich and a former deputy governor at Ireland’s central bank.

[..] Central banks accumulate foreign reserves when they purchase assets denominated in other currencies, using freshly created money. They do this to weaken their currencies, protecting exports and giving a boost to inflation. Foreign reserves can waver slightly due to changes in currency values, but big increases like Switzerland’s signal aggressive intervention. This tool has gained traction in recent years as official rates have turned negative in Denmark and Switzerland and are near zero in the Czech Republic.

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A few good articles for International Women’s Day. Pettifor’s insistence that households are not like governments is important.

Dispel The Economic Myths That Hold Women Back (Ann Pettifor)

There are two economic myths that fail the interests of women. The first is the fallacy that government budgets conform to “the household analogy”: that, as with family budgets, a state’s outgoings cannot exceed its income. The second is that “there is no money” for the services women use and need. On the first, the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

To understand why the government/household analogy is false it is important to understand that the balance of the government budget, unlike that of a household, is entirely a function of the wider economy. If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.

Because government spending (unlike a household’s spending) has a big impact on the economy, governments can use loan-financed investment to expand tax-generating employment – both public (for example, nurses and teachers) and private sector employment (construction workers). Both nurses and construction workers will return a large part of their incomes into the economy through spending, benefitting the private sector. Thanks to the multiplier effect, that spending will generate VAT and corporation tax revenues – for repaying government debt. George Osborne believed that government spending cuts would be offset by a rise in private sector confidence, inspired by a government “getting its house in order”. But that did not happen.

As many of us predicted, government spending cuts contracted the economy further. Economic activity (investment, sales, employment) was weaker than expected. Even when employment revived, lower wages and insecure, part-time work meant that income and corporate taxes were lower than expected. So government borrowing did not fall. As a result, public debt as a share of GDP was higher than expected. In the meantime, massive harm had been done to public sector services and those employed in the sector – while the economy endured the slowest post-crisis recovery in history. And it was women who largely paid the price.

One woman can be said to have given the phrase “there is no money” much credibility. In her 1983 speech to the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher declared that: “The state has no source of money, other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more it can only do so by borrowing your savings, or by taxing you more … There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money.” Today this framing of the debate is at odds with reality. After the financial crisis, the Bank of England injected £1,000bn into the private finance sector to prevent systemic economic failure. And after the shock of the Brexit vote, the Bank unveiled the “Term Funding Scheme” as part of a £170bn “stimulus package” aimed at the private finance sector. The money was “public money” offered at a historically low interest rate – to bankers. It was not raised by cutting spending, and it was not raised from “your taxes”, even while its issue was backed by Britain’s taxpayers.

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Good points.

Austerity Is A Feminist Issue (G.)

Women are massively more affected by budget cuts than men, says the Labour peer. They are more likely to be single parents, earn less and work part time than their male counterparts. She argues the government must replace ‘gender-neutral’ budgeting with economic policies that put women first.

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100 years ago.

The Women’s Protest That Sparked The Russian Revolution (G.)

The first day of the Russian revolution – 8 March (23 February in the old Russian calendar) – was International Women’s Day, an important day in the socialist calendar. By midday of that day in 1917 there were tens of thousands of mainly women congregating on the Nevsky Propsekt, the principal avenue in the centre of the Russian capital, Petrograd, and banners started to appear. The slogans on the banners were patriotic but also made forceful demands for change: “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland”, read one; another said: “Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace”. The crowds of demonstrators were varied. The city’s governor, AP Balk, said they consisted of “ladies from society, lots more peasant women, student girls and, compared with earlier demonstrations, not many workers”. The revolution was begun by women, not male workers.

In the afternoon the mood began to change as female textile workers from the Vyborg side of the city came out on strike in protest against shortages of bread. Joined by their menfolk, they swelled the crowds on the Nevsky, where there were calls for “Bread!” and “Down with the tsar!” By the end of the afternoon, 100,000 workers had come out on strike, and there were clashes with police as the workers tried to cross the Liteiny bridge, connecting the Vyborg side with the city centre. Most were dispersed by the police but several thousand crossed the ice-packed river Neva (a risky thing to do at -5C) and some, angered by the fighting, began to loot the shops on their way to the Nevsky. Balk’s Cossacks struggled to clear the crowds on the Nevsky. They would ride up the demonstrators, only to stop short and retreat. Later it emerged that they were mostly young reservists who had no experience of dealing with crowds.

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How to kill a city part 829.

Vacant Homes Are A Global Epidemic (BD)

Runaway real estate speculation has been filling global capitals with vacant homes, creating artificial shortages in the world’s most sought after cities. The “shortage” has made local home owners wealthy overnight, but it comes at the cost of turning lively cities into empty shells. The city of Paris has decided it’s had enough, and implemented a tax in 2015. They didn’t quite get the results they wanted, so they’re now tripling the tax to 60%. Paris has been trying to deal with vacant property owners for some time. Despite warnings that the city will have to take action, the number of vacant homes is growing. There’s now 107,000 vacant homes, representing 7.5% of all residential dwellings in the city according to France’s INSEE. Deputy Mayor Ian Brossat told Le Monde that 40,000 of those vacant homes aren’t even connected to the electrical grid.

Local developers have argued that more new construction is the solution. However Brossat argues “In a city as dense as Paris, where it is very difficult to build, controlling the occupancy of housing is strategic.” It appears the city believes they have 107,000 reasons more construction is not the solution. Paris implemented a tax recently, but it didn’t quite produce the desired outcome. Starting in 2015 the city elected to tax vacant homes the equivalent of 20% of the fair market value of rent. On January 30 this year, they decided to triple that amount to 60%. The idea isn’t to punish those fortunate enough to own a second (or twelfth) home. They’re trying to discourage speculation and promote a healthy rental market.

Paris’ 107,000 empty homes might seem like a lot, but it’s becoming strangely normal around the world. New York City had a whopping 318,831 vacant units in 2015. It’s a hot topic in Sydney, where 118,499 vacant units were counted in 2013. Heck, London considers it a critical issue, and they “only” have 22,000 empty homes. There’s a massive numbers of vacant homes across the globe, but only Paris has decided to take aggressive action to tackle it. Growing populations have barely put a dent in the vacant homes in global real estate capitals. The amount of speculation has been scaling with demand, which is a curious paradox. This signifies an issue that’s more complex than just a basic supply and demand problem.

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And you can’t call it perjury. But look at the article below this one.

There’s No Housing Bubble in Australia, Heads of Big Banks Say (BBG)

Soaring home prices in Australia’s biggest cities don’t necessarily mean the country is in the grip of a housing bubble, according to the heads of the nation’s biggest banks. Testifying before a parliamentary committee, the chief executives of National Australia, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank of Australia all said that while they are worried about elements of the housing market, prices aren’t over-inflated. “I would draw the distinction between a speculative bubble in prices and prices beyond what fundamentals would justify,” Westpac’s Brian Hartzer told the committee in Canberra Wednesday. A bubble isn’t occurring in Sydney or Melbourne, where house prices have risen the most, he said.

“There are increasing risks, but I still believe the answer is no,” National Australia Bank’s Andrew Thorburn said when asked if houses in Sydney and Melbourne are overpriced. Commonwealth Bank, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, is “lending at levels we are comfortable with” across Australia, CEO Ian Narev told the committee when he testified Tuesday. The bank chiefs were appearing in front of the committee, which was set up by the government to ward off calls for a more far-reaching inquiry into the financial industry, for the second time within six months. The banks have been under pressure from opposition parties after a series of scandals in their insurance and wealth divisions and concern they failed to pass on the full benefits of central bank interest-rate cuts to borrowers.

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“Boosting leveraged demand to make housing affordable makes no sense.”

Australian Lenders Are Handing Out Mortgages Like Confetti (LF)

In the thrall of irrational exuberance, Australia is experiencing a debt-financed housing bubble. In our two major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the housing markets are out of control due to the rapid acceleration of debt enabled by lenders issuing remarkable amounts of mortgages. Household debt to income ratios for the states of NSW and VIC suggest this to be the case. Australian lenders are handing out mortgages like confetti – why? It demonstrates banks and non-bank lenders are quite willing to issue risky mortgages to applicants who will not have the long-term financial capability to repay. Lenders are indeed taking on these excessive risks. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink is today the common approach governments take to ensure housing prices continually rise given their fear of the political and economic damage caused by falling prices.

Governments engaged in co-buying and co-owning housing with FHBs stimulates debt accumulation and hence prices. The VIC government, for instance, is attempting to provide a large gift to current residential land owners and lenders at the cost of FHBs acquiring mortgages they cannot afford to service over the long-run. This is done through the proposed shared equity model whereby the government acquires 25% of the home price. To make matters worse, the VIC government is also cutting stamp duty for FHBs and doubling the FHOB (for new properties in regional areas); both in theory have the effect of boosting housing prices. The VIC government cannot allow housing prices in Melbourne and the rest of Victoria decline significantly because it will suffer the same adverse impact that Dublin and Ireland experienced last decade.

The problems are the same and the end result will be the same. Unfortunately, just like the federal government, the VIC government is stuck. Implementing policies on the demand and supply sides to reduce land prices will cause a great deal of pain to all stakeholders: governments, lenders, homeowners, investors, including employees – many may lose their jobs if debt growth craters and removes a considerable portion of demand from the economy. Government has dug itself into a hole but instead of assessing a way out, it simply continues to dig, hoping to kick the can down the road long enough for the next party in power to deal with the problems. Both the LNP and ALP at the federal and state levels have refused to deal with the issues at hand, and prefer to enslave a generation of Aussies to the most profitable and high-risk banking system in the western world.

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As I’ve been saying forever. Recovery is unpossible in Greece.

Greece’s Still-Falling GDP Dispels Creditors’ “Recovery” Myth (Prime)

The latest GDP figures for Greece, relating to Q4 of 2016, are disastrous. For Greece first and foremost, but also for the credibility of the EU and IMF’s failed harsh austerity (but on the EU side no-debt-cancellation) policy. Far from evidencing the long-promised recovery, they show a new decline in GDP – both on the previous quarter (after seasonal adjustment) and year on year. In fact, the economy has been broadly stagnant at a low level since 2013. In constant volume terms, GDP fell by over 27% from (peak) Q2 2007 to Q4 2013, and in Q4 2016 it was 0.3% smaller than in Q4 2013. In Q4 it was only marginally higher than the post-crisis record low to date, Q3 2015. This chart from Elstat (the Greek Statistical Office) shows the development of GDP over the last decade:

What is more extraordinary is that current price (i.e. nominal) GDP has fallen even further than real GDP over the decade – by 28.5% From 2008 to 2016, GDP fell quarter-on-quarter in no fewer than 27 out of 36 quarters, of which two in 2016. [..] there has been some modest improvement, with unemployment in November 2016 about 66,000 lower than a year before, and employment up by about 50,000. But employment is still 200,000 below its 2011 level. The unemployment rate remains a disastrous 23%, which reminds one of chronic European levels in the 1920s and 1930s:

The Financial Times’ Mehreen Khan yesterday (6 March) described the current state of negotiations towards the absurd requirement of a contractionary 3.5% of GDP budget surplus (i.e. after interest): “Progress on the country’s €86bn rescue deal has stuttered this year following a standoff between the EU and IMF over the level of austerity, reforms and debt relief baked into Greece’s three-year programme. Bailout monitors however returned to Athens last week to ensure the left-wing Greek government was making steps towards legislating for around €2bn in tax and pension measures that will help the country meet a surplus target of 3.5 per cent of GDP from 2018. Approval of the second review would unlock around €6bn in rescue cash for the economy.”

And ah yes, as Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Chair of the Eurogroup finance ministers, put it on 20th February, in an interview with CNBC (h/t Professor Helen Thompson ): “…anyone who wants to talk about crisis can talk to someone else because the Greek economy is gradually recovering and what we need to do is to strengthen that and give that more opportunity and that is what I’m trying to do.” Alas, Mr Dijsselbloem comes from the Dutch Labour Party, not the conservatives, and here symbolizes all that is so profoundly wrong with the Eurozone’s economic policy and ideology. It’s high time he looked again at that table of unemployment in the 1930s – and the terrible ordeal imposed on the Dutch working class.

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The creditors force Greek companies into contortionist tricks just to survive. There is such a thing as too much tax.

Tax Weary Greek Employers Pay In Kind As Creditor Demands Rise (BBG)

When Maria’s employer, a large communications company in Athens, gave her additional tasks at one of its new units, it told her she wouldn’t be paid for the work in euros. “I was informed that this extra payment of 150 euros per month would be in coupons that I can use in supermarkets,” said the 45-year-old, declining to provide her last name for fear of losing her job. Payments in kind are among practices companies are using in Greece as they seek to cap payroll costs, undermining efforts to balance the books of the country’s cash-strapped social security system. As creditors push the government to boost its budget surplus, companies avoiding payroll charges and effectively expanding the shadow economy are making the task harder. By some estimates, the so-called black market already accounts for as much as a quarter of Greece’s economy.

“Such practices help companies to avoid social contributions, but the burden for the economy is huge,” said Panos Tsakloglou, a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. “Less contributions for pensions means more budget transfers to them which then leads to more austerity measures to meet fiscal targets, measures that will probably hit pensioners.” Greek officials have been meeting in Athens with representatives of the euro area and IMF to set out the policies the country must undertake to unlock more bailout loans. The government foresees an accord in March or early April, but the scale of pending issues raises concerns they may be politically hard to sell at home. Greece has agreed to target for a budget surplus before interest payments equal to 3.5% of GDP for 2018, which could mean more belt-tightening.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government finds itself between a rock and a hard place as it tries to appease creditors while avoiding mass protests. After an anemic recovery, the Greek economy shrank again in the fourth quarter, raising the specter of growing tensions at home even as European creditors and the IMF push for more austerity. With an economy that has shrunk by more than a quarter in the last seven years, Greece has an unemployment rate of 23%, close to a historic high. Creditors, meanwhile, are demanding greater labor-market flexibility that would make it easier for companies to hire and fire people. They want the threshold of collective dismissals to be doubled to 10% and demand that Athens not revoke any of the measures legislated during the crisis.

[..] For overtaxed Greek companies, dodging social security contributions through payments in kind has become a way to make ends meet. According to the latest available data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average single worker in Greece faced a tax wedge of 39.3% compared with an average of 35.9% among developed economies. About half of the burden falls upon employers. “We do not have the exact picture,” said Nasos Iliopoulos, an official in Greece’s Labor Ministry. “But it is clear that it is not legal to replace payments with coupons. It is only permitted to give coupons as an extra bonus. Companies are seeking to gain from lower social contributions and also from not paying for extra working hours.”

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There’s nothing new.

America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations (Atlantic)

It was a time of economic struggle, racial resentment and increasing xenophobia. Installed in the White House was a president who had never before held elected office. A moderately successful businessman, he promised American jobs for Americans—and made good on that promise by slashing immigration by nearly 90 percent. He wore his hair parted down the middle, rather than elaborately piled on top, and his name was Herbert Hoover, not Donald Trump. But in the late 1920s and early 1930s, under the president’s watch, a wave of illegal and unconstitutional raids and deportations would alter the lives of as many as 1.8 million men, women and children—a threat that would seem to loom just as large in 2017 as it did back in 1929.

What became colloquially known as the “Mexican repatriation” efforts of 1929 to 1936 are a shameful and profoundly illustrative chapter in American history, yet they remain largely unknown—despite their broad and devastating impact. So much so that today, a different president is edging towards similar solutions, with none of the hesitation or concern that basic consciousness would seem to require. [..] Back in Hoover’s era, as America hung on the precipice of economic calamity—the Great Depression—the president was under enormous pressure to offer a solution for increasing unemployment, and to devise an emergency plan for the strained social safety net. Though he understood the pressing need to aid a crashing economy, Hoover resisted federal intervention, instead preferring a patchwork of piecemeal solutions, including the targeting of outsiders.

According to former California State Senator Joseph Dunn, who in 2004 began an investigation into the Hoover-era deportations, “the Republicans decided the way they were going to create jobs was by getting rid of anyone with a Mexican-sounding name.” “Getting rid of” America’s Mexican population was a random, brutal effort. “For participating cities and counties, they would go through public employee rolls and look for Mexican-sounding names and then go and arrest and deport those people,” said Dunn. “And then there was a job opening!” “We weren’t rounding up people who were Canadian,” he added. “It was an absolutely racially-motivated program to create jobs by getting rid of people.”

[..] The so-called repatriation effort was, in large part, a misnomer, given the fact that as many as sixty percent of those sent to “home” Mexico were U.S. citizens: American-born children of Mexican-descent who had never before traveled south of the border. (Dunn noted, “I don’t know how you can repatriate someone to a country they’ve not been born or raised in.”) “Individuals who left at 5, 6 and 7 years old found themselves in Mexico dealing with process of socialization, of learning the language, but they maintained an American identity,” said Balderrama. “And still had the dream to come back to ‘my country.’”

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Mar 032017
 
 March 3, 2017  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC North approach, Pedro Miguel Lock, Panama Canal 1915

 


EU Votes To Suspend Visa-Free Travel To Europe For Americans (Tel.)
Snap IPO “The Ultimate Example Of Bubble Trouble” (CNBC)
Snap IPO: A Shareholding Monarchy (G.)
What If The 1980-Secular Bull Is Still Running? (Roberts)
Global Banks Have Paid $321 Billion In Fines Since Financial Crisis (BBG)
Home Ownership In England At A 30-Year Low (G.)
More Than Half Of New-Build Homes In England ‘Have Major Faults’ (G.)
China’s Parliament Is Chock Full Of Billionaires (CNBC)
The Tyranny Of A Cashless Society (Simpson)
A Goat Would Beat Le Pen In France’s Presidential Election (CNBC)
Elephants Are The Shortest Sleeping Mammal (BBC)
Dishwasher Becomes Co-Owner Of World-Famous Restaurant (G.)
Lake Once Worshipped As Birthplace Of The Sun Now A Deadly Garbage Dump (AP)
Greece Requests Loan From World Bank (K.)
Greece’s ‘Desperate Households’ (K.)
EU Threatens Members With Legal Action Over Refugees (K.)
Calais Mayor Bans Distribution Of Food To Refugees (G.)

 

 

Sure, make life harder for your own citizens.

EU Votes To Suspend Visa-Free Travel To Europe For Americans (Tel.)

Americans should be forced to apply for visas to travel to Europe, the European Parliament has said, in response to Washington refusing to allow all Europeans to travel to the States visa-free. The vote by show of hands is the latest in the ongoing “visa war” between Brussels and the US capital, which now looks set to come to a head after MEPs today agreed that US nationals crossing the Atlantic should require additional travel documents as long as citizens from five EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania) are kept from entering America without a visa. A European Parliament source told Telegraph Travel this was a “serious negative step in the EU-USA visa war”.

The EU Commission now has two months to reintroduce visas for Americans wishing to travel to Europe, after MEPs agreed the EU is now “legally obliged” to suspend the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) with the US for a year after the US administration failed to meet a deadline to respond something called visa reciprocity. Parliament and the European Council will have the chance to object to anything put forward by the Commission. The need to apply for a visa to travel to a country is widely seen as a turn-off to potential visitors, given the extra cost and time an application requires. A country looking to boost its tourism industry will often look at loosening any existing visa requirements. The resolution was passed despite warnings from the European Travel Commission (ETC) of the damage a visa war with the US might have on the continent’s tourism industry.

“We fully understand and respect the visa waiver reciprocity mechanism embedded in European legislation to ensure that all nationals of Member States part of Schengen can benefit on equal terms from exemption of visa requirement,” said Eduardo Santander, executive director of the ETC, in a joint letter with Michael de Blust, secretariat of the Network for the European Private Sector in Tourism, to MEPs. “However, we are very concerned about the economic and political impact of a suspension of visa waiver for US nationals. “Making it more difficult for US citizens to travel to Europe would certainly deprive the European travel and tourism sector of essential revenue, and put thousands of European jobs at stake in one of the few sectors which experiences a strong growth in employment.”

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“Morgan Stanley and Goldman should hang their heads in shame here.”

Snap IPO “The Ultimate Example Of Bubble Trouble” (CNBC)

Top investment banks behind the Snap Inc public listing are being slammed for the lack of voting rights that investors in the stock will receive. Snap Inc priced its initial public offering above its target range at $17 per share on Wednesday, valuing the company at $24 billion when staff stock and deal bonuses are included. The holding company, which owns social media phenomenon Snapchat, will debut on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday but investors have bought shares with no voting power. Stephen Isaacs, chairman of the investment committee at Alvine Capital, says the major investment banks behind Snap’s public debut are pushing through an unusual move that takes liberties with investors’ rights. “Morgan Stanley and Goldman should hang their heads in shame here. I mean not about the valuation but non-voting shares?

“Isn’t that the ultimate example of bubble trouble? So I say we are in a bubble, there is no value and investors should take a lot of risk off the table,” he said Thursday.Isaacs says the Snap Inc IPO could come to symbolize something bigger than just the deal itself as markets continue to bloat ever higher. “There are two views; the Warren Buffett view is that he market isn’t that expensive, the American economy is doing well and the long-term investor should always be engaged. And in the end he’s done a pretty good job of managing other people’s money. “The other view which I’m afraid I agree with is that we are in a cycle, we are at the top of the cycle, valuations show absolutely no value and then Snap comes along,” Isaacs said. “Sometimes a deal at the top of the market can be something that crystallizes the insanity”, he added.

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“They could retire to an ashram in India or spend the rest of their lives writing haikus. No matter, they will still make every major decision for Snap..”

Snap IPO: A Shareholding Monarchy (G.)

It is a paradox that a country that sought freedom from a king, the United States, is today happy to crown monarchs in commerce. Snap, which calls itself a camera company but is in fact a Silicon Valley firm behind a mobile messaging app, floated on the US stock exchange making billionaires of its two under-30 founders. True, 158 million people open the Snapchat app an average 18 times a day. But money and influence are not the only issues here. It’s also about unaccountable power. Snap’s initial public offering marks a turning point in US capitalism: it is the first time that the only shares on offer are those with no voting rights.

This form of techno-aristocratic capitalism means that the founders, 26-year-old Evan Spiegel and 28-year-old Bobby Murphy, will alone make the big decisions about Snap and maintain control over the social media phenomenon even if their employment is terminated. They could retire to an ashram in India or spend the rest of their lives writing haikus. No matter, they will still make every major decision for Snap, from appointing board members to a possible future sale. Only death will release the company from their control. Or if both sell more than 70% of their stock. It’s bizarre that in a country founded on a repudiation of old-world aristocracy, investors are pouring money into creating a nouveau US version of an ancien regime European aristocracy in business, replicating its extravagant and unaccountable wealth.

Snap is the worst example of this trend. Silicon Valley is now dominated by companies with weak or passive public shareholders. Many investors have been silly enough to hand over cash for little say in the running of tech titans such as Google, Facebook and Alibaba. Given how quickly today’s heroes are tomorrow’s zeros in technology, it seems foolhardy to cede control to listed companies that sometimes never make a profit or where incumbent managers cannot be fired to make way for new blood. Are investors so gullible that they believe the guff about new gods who see further than anyone else from Olympian-high pedestals – and are happy to get no dividends from their stock?

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Multiple trends coverging.

What If The 1980-Secular Bull Is Still Running? (Roberts)

[..] I have created the following thought experiment of examining the psychological cycle overlaid on each of the three full-cycle periods in the market.

The first full-market cycle lasted 63-years from 1871 through 1934. This period ended with the crash of 1929 and the beginning of the “Great Depression.” 

The second full-market cycle lasted 45-years from 1935-1980. This cycle ended with the demise of the “Nifty-Fifty” stocks and the “Black Bear Market” of 1974. While not as economically devastating to the overall economy as the 1929-crash, it did greatly impair the investment psychology of those in the market.

The current full-market cycle is only 37-years in the making. Given the 2nd highest valuation levels in history, corporate, consumer and margin debt near historical highs, and average economic growth rates running at historical lows, it is worth questioning whether the current full-market cycle has been completed or not.

The idea the “bull market” which begin in 1980 is still intact is not a new one. As shown below a chart of the market from 1980 to present, suggests the same.

The long-term bullish trend line remains and the cycle-oscillator is only half-way through a long-term cycle. Furthermore, on a Fibonacci-retracement basis, a 61.8% retracement would current intersect with the long-term bullish trend-line around 1000 suggesting the next downturn could indeed be a nasty one. But again, this is only based on the assumption the long-term full market cycle has not been completed as of yet.I am NOT suggesting this is the case. This is just a thought-experiment about the potential outcome from the collision of weak economics, high levels of debt, and valuations and “irrational exuberance.”

Yes, this time could entirely be different.

It just never has been before.

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The amount of fraud some people can engage in without doing time or losing a dime is stunning.

Global Banks Have Paid $321 Billion In Fines Since Financial Crisis (BBG)

Banks globally have paid $321bn in fines since 2008 for an abundance of regulatory failings from money laundering to market manipulation and terrorist financing, according to data from Boston Consulting Group. That tally is set to increase in the coming years as European and Asian regulators catch up with their more aggressive US peers, who have levied the majority of charges to date, BCG said in its seventh annual study of the industry published on Thursday. Banks paid $42bn in fines in 2016 alone, a 68 per cent rise on the previous year, the data showed. “As conduct-based regulations evolve, fines and penalties, along with related legal and litigation expenses, will remain a cost of doing business,” analysts led by Gerold Grasshoff wrote. “Managing those costs will continue to be a major task for banks.”

The era of ever-increasing regulatory requirements is here to stay, BCG said, despite President Donald Trump’s pledge to roll back the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that reshaped US banking in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The number of rule changes that banks must track on a daily basis has tripled since 2011, to an average of 200 revisions a day, according to the report. “Regulation must be considered a permanent rise in sea level – not just a flowing tide that will ebb or even a cresting tsunami that will recede,” the authors wrote. “We expect this theme to hold despite recent political developments in the US.” Almost 10 years after the onset of the financial crisis, the banking industry still hasn’t completely recovered from the losses it suffered by one measure, BCG said.

While finance firms created so-called economic profit of €159bn in 2015, a fifth annual increase, the industry remains €9bn in the red on a cumulative basis for the years 2009 to 2015, the data show. BCG calculated economic profit by taking a bank’s operating results and incorporating its cost of capital.

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Boy, what a mess. They’re going to have to reboot the entire country. Seriously.

Home Ownership In England At A 30-Year Low (G.)

Home ownership in England has fallen to its lowest level for 30 years, while the number of people privately renting is now higher than in the early 1960s, according to official figures. Government data reveals that the private rented sector has doubled in size since 2004, with almost half of all people in England aged 25 to 34 paying a private landlord for their accommodation. Ministers recently admitted England’s housing market was “broken”, with home ownership a distant dream for millions. Labour claimed the figures showed that the government was “out of ideas” and had no long-term plan to fix the housing crisis. The Generation Rent campaign group said runaway house price inflation and the difficulty of saving a deposit had trapped millions in private rented housing, “even more [people] than in the days of slum landlords like Rachman”.

The latest English Housing Survey, produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), found that of the estimated 22.8m households in England, 14.3m – or 62.9% – were owner-occupiers in 2015-16. It stated that owner-occupation rates “remain unchanged for the third year in a row” – but Labour and others were quick to seize on an accompanying table, which showed that the rate had slipped from 63.6% the previous year. This is down from a peak of 70.9% in 2003 and is the lowest figure since 1985, when it was 62.4%. By contrast, the private rented sector has ballooned in size and now accounted for just over 4.5m households – double the 2.3m in 2004. The new figure represents 20% of the total, whereas in 2002 it was 10%.

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No surprise whatsoever.

More Than Half Of New-Build Homes In England ‘Have Major Faults’ (G.)

More than half of the buyers of new homes have experienced major problems with their properties, according to research, which comes after Bovis Homes agreed to pay £7m compensation to customers for poorly built houses. A YouGov survey for the housing charity Shelter found that 51% of homeowners of recent new builds in England said they had experienced major problems including issues with construction, unfinished fittings and faults with utilities. The survey, which polled 4,341 UK adults online, was published alongside a Shelter report that concluded that the housebuilding sector is rigged in favour of big developers and land traders rather than families looking for homes.

The current speculative system of housebuilding is failing families by producing expensive, yet poor-quality homes, according to the report, published after the government branded the housing market “broken” in its recent housing white paper. Eight in 10 working families who are renting privately cannot afford to buy a newly built home – even if they use the government’s Help to Buy scheme, Shelter said. The West Midlands ranked as the worst region, with 93% of families unable to purchase an average-priced new home. In the report, titled New Civic Housebuilding, the charity calls for a return to building good-quality, affordable homes like the model villages for Cadbury workers at Bournville, the red brick developments of the Peabody and Guinness estates, the Victorian and Georgian terraces in Edinburgh and Bath, and the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn.

The YouGov poll showed 41% of homeowners disagreed with the statement “I would prefer to live in a new home rather than an older one”; 29% agreed, and 26% neither agreed nor disagreed. And 45% disagreed with the statement “New homes are built to a higher standard than older homes”; 22% agreed and 23% were neutral.

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Communist Party.

China’s Parliament Is Chock Full Of Billionaires (CNBC)

Want to rub elbows with the rich? Go to China, where the country’s parliament could pass for an elite club of the world’s richest, where about 100 delegates are U.S. dollar billionaires. They made their fortune in everything from property to energy, according to data from the Hurun Report, which publishes the China Rich List. A bunch of tech entrepreneurs sit at the top of the list, including Pony Ma of Tencent, Robin Li of Baidu and Lei Jun of Xiaomi. The names are among delegates gathering for their annual meeting in Beijing starting on Friday, a roughly weeklong affair that’s big on posturing, but small on legislating. Delegates always vote to approve proposals from the ruling Communist Party. Here’s another fun fact: The richest 209 parliament delegates are each worth more than 2 billion yuan ($300 million) – their combined wealth is equivalent to the annual GDPs of Belgium and Sweden, using World Bank figures on GDP for those countries.

By comparison, the U.S. doesn’t have a single billionaire in Congress. The wealthiest member, California Republican Darrell Issa, is worth around $440 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. President Donald Trump claims he is a billionaire, though he has refused to release his income taxes to prove it – breaking with a practice followed by U.S. leaders since Richard Nixon. Still, China’s parliament – made up of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – includes delegates from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those who benefited handsomely as China’s economy has grown into the world’s second largest. But there’s another reason to show up – these sessions of China’s “rubber stamp” parliament are a chance to see and be seen. In a country where business and commerce are tightly restricted, a chance to rub elbows with top Communist Party brass could mean the difference between boom and bust.

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“If the minds behind a cashless society are allowed to have their way, America would become little more than a monumental ant farm..”

The Tyranny Of A Cashless Society (Simpson)

Like many people, I am a careful person when it comes to digital commerce, yet nonetheless I had two of my credit cards hacked (twice in the last four years) — one time by a supposedly reliable online retail company, another time when I rented a trailer. And both times, it required an incredible amount of time, police reports, phone calls, etc., just to get back to square one and get my money back. But my experience was not unusual. Nearly 18 million Americans suffered from some form of identity theft in 2014 alone. Digital commerce and credit cards are very problematic and are not the panacea that companies and the government want the public to believe.

Looking to a future in which governments abolish cash in useful denominations, it follows that they will then focus on eliminating personal and commercial commerce through the use of compact high-value commodities such as gold and silver, a natural progression if $100 bills are taken out of circulation in the United States. People today who are living in the legacy of the Barack Obama economy already need a fistful of $20 bills just to buy a week’s supply of groceries. And it’s easy to spend $400 a week on fresh groceries for two people, especially if you buy premium products and organic. If we consider the increasing trend where banks, institutions and big retailers are regularly hacked, combined with identity theft, digital commerce and credit cards aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and in reality are posing an ever-increasing level of liability on all levels through their use.

The relatively few people who may ultimately control all of the digital wealth of Americans will virtually have control of all the people in a cashless society. This results in a definite loss of freedom and liberty. There are many, many other ways for law enforcement to hammer criminals and curtail their enterprises, if that is truly the goal. But any method that inhibits or erodes the freedoms of Americans in any way, including limiting or infringing upon person-to-person commerce and personal privacy in any manner, is to be shunned and runs counter to the intents and spirit of our beloved U.S. Constitution. Digital currency transactions in lieu of cash would allow virtually 100% tracking of all Americans, including law-abiding citizens and all that we do.

We have already learned over the past eight years of the Obama-led government that governments don’t necessarily work for or even represent the will of the people. So how can anyone justify giving the government this much power over Americans? There is no such justification. The vast majority of Americans are not criminals, and therefore any action by government that affects or targets the vast majority of people in order to deal with a small factional percentage of criminals in the population is manifestly unfair. Politicians simply need to do the jobs they are being paid to do, and come up with anti-criminal tactics that strictly focus upon the bad actors, not the majority of law-abiding Americans.

If the minds behind a cashless society are allowed to have their way, America would become little more than a monumental ant farm, where the elitist class studies Americans to a much greater extent than ever before — how we move around and what we do, use, eat, watch and listen to — and then uses this deeply insightful personal information, potentially to plot how to control everyone. Things like if we’re allowed to be born (abortions already control this to some extent), how long we get to live, and what we are allowed to do in between. Orwellian, yes, but possible nonetheless.

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“I want to be perfectly clear for foreigners and for investors in particular, a goat, literally a goat, at the second round against Marine Le Pen, the goat is elected.”

A Goat Would Beat Le Pen In France’s Presidential Election (CNBC)

Those concerned that far-right leader Marine Le Pen will become France’s next president might be worrying too much, according to one political analyst. Thomas Guénolé from the Paris-based institute Sciences Po told CNBC Thursday: “I want to be perfectly clear for foreigners and for investors in particular, a goat, literally a goat, at the second round against Marine Le Pen, the goat is elected.” Guénolé added that there are many French voters who are “allergic” to the far right and would unite in the second round of the election to prevent Le Pen from winning. Le Pen is currently ahead in projections for the first round scheduled for April 23. But she is seen losing the second round to the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. “Basically the ideology of Mr Macron is opportunism,” Guénolé said. “He waited as long as possible before telling us what his platform is.”

Macron is due to outline his manifesto Thursday morning. This comes after French authorities decided to formally investigate the conservative candidate Francois Fillon for misusing public funds. Fillon who, until the scandal emerged, was well-placed to become the next president, announced Wednesday he is not stepping out of the race, despite previously saying he would if formal investigations were pursued. According to Guénolé, Macron has more to win from Fillon’s downfall than Le Pen. “I don’t think Marine Le Pen will benefit from this because in fact those who are right-wing voters and think Marine Le Pen is better already want to vote for Marine Le Pen. So I don’t think she’s going to win extra voters, but Emmanuel Macron can be an alternative for those who are right-wing voters and do not want to become far-right voters,” he said.

[..] Laura Slimani, spokesperson for the socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, told CNBC on Thursday that Fillon’s scandal “puts a lot of discredit on politics.” The socialist spokesperson said that all candidates to the presidential seat should disclose who’s funding their campaigns, as sentiment surrounding corruption seems to grow. “Who is today financing the campaign of Emmanuel Macron?,” Slimani said. “We know he is supported by big names in finance, in the business industry, so we want to know who is financing his campaign because this will have an impact on what kind of policies he will lead afterwards, at least it will have an impact on whether he will be a free president, if elected,” she added.

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Elephants have strong memories. But they sleep just two hours a night. Given how important we think (REM) sleep is for memory, that poses some major questions.

Elephants Are The Shortest Sleeping Mammal (BBC)

Wild African elephants sleep for the shortest time of any mammal, according to a study. Scientists tracked two elephants in Botswana to find out more about the animals’ natural sleep patterns. Elephants in zoos sleep for four to six hours a day, but in their natural surroundings the elephants rested for only two hours, mainly at night. The elephants, both matriarchs of the herd, sometimes stayed awake for several days. During this time, they travelled long distances, perhaps to escape lions or poachers. They only went into rapid eye movement (REM, or dreaming sleep, at least in humans) every three or four days, when they slept lying down rather than on their feet. Prof Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, said this makes elephant sleep unique. “Elephants are the shortest sleeping mammal – that seems to be related to their large body size,” he told BBC News.

“It seems like elephants only dream every three to four days. Given the well-known memory of the elephant this calls into question theories associating REM sleep with memory consolidation.” Elephants living in captivity have been widely studied. To find out more about their sleeping habits in the wild, Prof Manger and his research team fitted the scientific equivalent of a fitness tracker under the skin of the animals’ trunks. The device was used to record when the elephants were sleeping, based on their trunk staying still for five minutes or more. The two elephants were also fitted with a gyroscope to assess their sleeping position. Both elephants were followed for five weeks, giving new insights into their natural sleep patterns. “We had the idea that elephants should be the shortest sleeping mammal because they’re the largest,” said Prof Manger. “Why this occurs, we’re not really sure. Sleep is one of those really unusual mysteries of biology, that along with eating and reproduction, it’s one of the biological imperatives. We must sleep to survive.”

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Forgot this yesterday. Feel good news for today then.

Dishwasher Becomes Co-Owner Of World-Famous Restaurant (G.)

A dishwasher described as the “heart and soul” of the world-class Danish restaurant Noma has been made a co-owner of the establishment he has worked in for 14 years. The decision to promote Ali Sonko, who has toiled in the Noma kitchen since it first opened in 2003, was announced at a party in Copenhagen to mark the restaurant’s last day at its waterfront location in Christianshavn. The restaurant, named the world’s best four times by Restaurant magazine and three times in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best, is due to move to a new location and reopen as an urban farm in December. In a Facebook post, René Redzepi, the chef who runs Noma, said it was “one of the happiest moments of my time at Noma” to announce that Ali was to become one of his new business partners, saying it was in recognition of his hard work and enduring smile.

“I don’t think people appreciate what it means to have someone like Ali in the house,” Redzepi told friends gathered for a party to mark Noma’s move. “He is all smiles, no matter how his 12 children are faring.” Sonko, 62, who moved to Denmark 34 years ago after emigrating from his native Gambia, where he worked as a farmer, described his job as “the best ever”. “I cannot describe how happy I am to work here,” he told the Danish website BT. “There are the best people to work with and I am good friends with everyone. They show enormous respect towards me and no matter what I say or ask them, they are there for me.” Redzepi, whose restaurant also has two Michelin stars, said he planned to surprise other staff “with a piece of the walls they have chosen to work so hard within”.

Alongside Sonko, Lau Richter, Noma’s service director, and James Spreadbury, an Australian who has managed the restaurant since 2009, are also to be made partners in the business. Redzepi said his father, also called Ali, had worked as a dishwasher when he arrived in Denmark as an immigrant from Macedonia.

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The Automatic Earth banner shows Lake Titicaca.

Lake Once Worshipped As Birthplace Of The Sun Now A Deadly Garbage Dump (AP)

Tucked between snow-capped mountains, Lake Titicaca was once worshipped by the Incas, who proclaimed its deep blue waters the birthplace of the sun. These days the shores of South America’s largest lake are littered with dead frogs, discarded paint buckets and bags of soggy trash. Less visible threats lurk in the water itself: toxic levels of lead and mercury. The steady deterioration of the prized tourist destination has caused a rash of health problems among the 1.3 million people in Peru and Bolivia living near Lake Titicaca’s polluted banks. Untreated sewage water drains from two dozen nearby cities and illegal gold mines high in the Andes dump up to 15 tons of mercury a year into a river leading to the lake. “If the frogs could talk they would say, ‘This is killing me,'” said Maruja Inquilla, a local environmental activist who recently showed up at the Puno governor’s house carrying plastic bags filled with hundreds of dead frogs in protest.

Increasing concern about pollution has prompted a series of scientific studies and promises of official action. The governments of Peru and Bolivia signed a pact in January 2016 to spend more than $500 million to attack the problem, though the details were vague. A year later, Peru’s new president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, pledged to construct 10 treatment plants around the lake, putting the cost at $437 million, “so that the most beautiful lake in the world is the cleanest lake in the world.” But details of how the plants would be funded remain unclear and promises by politicians dating back two decades have so far gone unfulfilled. Many of the more than 400,000 tourists who visit Lake Titicaca from Peru each year stop first in Juliaca, a town that produces 200 tons of trash daily, much of it winding up in a river that has turned into a conveyor belt of waste heading into the lake. Hypodermic needles, tires, old shoes and used diapers are scattered among the potato fields that line the giant lake’s shores.

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“Greece’s current creditors “are not too happy about” the fresh request for funds..”

Greece Requests Loan From World Bank (K.)

Greece has requested an unknown amount of “financial assistance” from the World Bank even as bailout talks continue amid government officials and representatives of the country’s international creditors, according to a report in Politico. “The government of Greece has asked the World Bank to provide technical and financial assistance to address pressing challenges including: long-term unemployment, economic competitiveness and growth and social protection,” Politico cited a spokesperson from the World Bank as saying in a statement. “In accordance with World Bank procedures, any final decision on providing loans would be subject to approval by the bank’s board of executive directors,” it said.

The World Bank declined to specify how much money Greece is purported to have requested, Politico reported. Greece’s current creditors “are not too happy about” the fresh request for funds, an EU official was quoted as saying. The report also cited an unnamed government source as saying that negotiations were under way but not confirming the alleged request for a loan. “Preliminary talks have taken place indeed with [the World Bank] but we cannot confirm official application,” the source was quoted as saying.

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The endless litany of bad numbers continues unabated. This is from the ECB itself.

Greece’s ‘Desperate Households’ (K.)

Greek households generally own their home and have a car; they often have a house in the village their family hails from too. However, their bank accounts are shrinking, their loans are not being serviced as promptly as they used to be and their liquidity is close to zero. Unemployment is now changing the structure of households, resulting in young and old being forced to stay under the same roof. These are the main features of Greek households during the economic crisis as recorded by the European Central Bank’s Household Finance and Consumption Survey, which covers the 2010-14 period and was presented in Greece on Thursday in the weekly bulletin of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV).

Under the title “Desperate Households,” the bulletin highlighted that families continue to provide a safety net; however, it showed that their stamina is also running low, as is that of the friend network. The rate of Greek households that said they could seek financial support from relatives and friends dropped to 36.5% in 2014 from 59.4% in 2009. The situation is certain to have deteriorated further in the last couple of years. Few Greeks have the luxury of being able to save money: Just 13.5% of households said they added to savings on a regular basis, down from 21.9% five years earlier. This is by far the lowest rate in the European Union.

The index of liquidity as a ratio of disposable income was at just 2.8% in Greece, down from 4.9% five years earlier, and against a eurozone average of 16.7%. There was a notable decline in the rate of heads of households who are self-employed (from 18.9% to 14.4% within five years) and those who are salary workers (from 39.7% to 36.5%). In contrast, the rate of heads of households who were retired increased from 34.7% to 39.3%, and those who were out of work from 6.6 to 9.8%. Another study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research showed on Thursday that Greece is top among European countries in terms of poverty growth, as the number of Greeks below the poverty line grew 40% from 2008 to 2015.

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Worked great so far….

EU Threatens Members With Legal Action Over Refugees (K.)

The European Commission is piling the pressure on European Union member-states that are refusing to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, as they had promised in September 2015, threatening, for the first time, to take legal action if they continue to do so. Although relocations increased in February, they are a far cry from the original targets set by the Commission in 2015 when EU countries had agreed to share some 160,000 migrants and refugees who had reached Greek and Italian shores in the previous two years. Of this number, only 13,546 have since been relocated – 9,610 from Greece and 3,936 from Italy. The 2015 agreement between EU countries stipulated that there would be 3,000 relocations from Greece and 1,500 from Italy each month. In total, the agreement provided for the relocation of 63,000 from Greece by September this year.

But at the current rate achieving this target appears highly unlikely, even though Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Thursday that the September target is still within reach. “There are no more excuses for the member-states not to deliver,” he said, insisting that “it is possible and feasible to relocate all those who are eligible from Italy and Greece by September.” Avramopoulos warned that if there are no tangible results by September, then the noncompliant countries will face legal action as the Commission “will not hesitate to make use of its power.” Only three EU states (Luxembourg, Malta and Finland) are close to fully meeting their obligations under the 2015 agreement. However, Hungary, Austria and Poland remain opposed to the agreement, while other countries, including the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia, say they are on board but will only take a limited number of asylum seekers.

With regard to the relocation of migrants and refugees from Turkey, EU countries have so far taken in 14,442 people, of whom 3,565 were Syrians. Meanwhile, the deal signed in March 2016 between Turkey and the EU to stem the flow of migrants into Europe is, so far, bearing results as the rate of daily arrivals on Greek islands has dropped significantly to about 43 per day, compared to as many as 10,000 on one day at the height of the influx in October 2015.

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Refusing to feed children, including thousands who try to reach family in Britain. Words fail.

Calais Mayor Bans Distribution Of Food To Refugees (G.)

The mayor of Calais has banned the distribution of food to migrants as part of a campaign to prevent the establishment of a new refugee camp as hundreds of people return to the port three months after the original one was demolished. Natacha Bouchart, from the centre-right Les Républicains party, said she would implement policies “to prevent the distribution of meals to migrants”, and legal documents setting out the restrictions were put up in the vicinity of the camp on Thursday. Officials have already obstructed attempts by local charities to open showers for teenage migrants in the town. Food distribution volunteers said they had been forced to do so in secret because of a heightened police presence. Refugee charities said they would ignore the ban but were taking legal advice.

The mayoral decree, dated 2 March, said the “regular, persistent and large presence of individuals distributing meals to migrants” in the area around the site of the former camp posed a threat to the peace and security of the area. It banned any “repeated, prolonged gatherings” in the area, in effect making food distribution an offence. Sarah Arrom, who has been helping to distribute food with the charity Utopia56 for the last four months, said police had fired teargas to prevent volunteers from giving breakfast to about 30 teenagers in a field near the motorway outside the city on Thursday. “They wanted to stop the distribution and they wanted to stop people from sleeping in the area,” she said. “There has never been teargas before when we’ve been trying to hand out food.”

[..] Christian Salomé, the president of the Auberge des Migrants charity, said a ban would be catastrophic for refugee children. “Adults will always find a way to buy food in the shops, but for minors it will be a real problem – they have no money at all.” He said no one had precise figures for the number of refugees around Calais. “People are arriving all the time and not many are getting through [to the UK].” Renke Meuwese, who works with Refugee Community Kitchen and Help Refugees, said the kitchens were making about 400 meals a day, up from about 50 last month. He said police seemed to be particularly concerned about reducing the visibility of refugees. “They are trying to make the refugees invisible, so they make it harder to distribute in town than the countryside. We can’t distribute at day so we have to do it at night. They are trying to push them out of sight.”

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Mar 012017
 
 March 1, 2017  Posted by at 10:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind, directed by Victor Fleming, 1939

 


Raising Pension Age Will Mean Many People Die Before Getting It (G.)
NY Teamsters Pension Fund Becomes First To Run Out Of Money (NYDN)
US Baby Boomers Forced By Law To Start Drawing From Retirement Funds (MW)
Greek Pensioners Brace For Latest Crisis Cuts (K.)
Merkel Bypasses Schäuble To Push For Greek Review Conclusion (K.)
US Stepping In To Ease Greece, Turkey Tensions (K.)
Trump Touts Unity Strength In Speech To Congress (R.)
Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are Not Political Philosophers (Baker)
This Chart Signals China’s Housing Bubble May Burst Soon (ME)
Russia Seen Dominating European Energy for Two Decades (BBG)
Sydney Home Prices Surge 14.8%, Fastest Annual Pace Since 2002 (BBG)
UK Nuclear Power Stations ‘Could Be Forced To Close’ After Brexit (G.)
Denmark Reduces Food Waste By 25% In 5 Years With Help Of One Woman (Ind.)
The World-Ending Fire – How America’s Farmers Betrayed The Land (G.)

 

 

Lots of retirement and pension scare stories today. I can only hope our readers have taken our warnings through the years to heart.

Raising Pension Age Will Mean Many People Die Before Getting It (G.)

Further increases in the state pension age could push it to the point where many working people die before qualifying for it, MPs have warned, in a report that calls for the end of the “triple lock” guarantee on pensions. The Commons work and pensions select committee report on intergenerational fairness, published on Tuesday, claims that financing the triple lock in future will not be possible without increasing the state pension age to 70.5 years – leaving men in Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Blackpool dying on average before they receive their state pension. Under the triple lock, pensions have risen every year since 2010 by whichever is the higher figure out of the rate of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%. This has lifted many pensioners out of poverty but the committee said it had resulted in the over-65s taking an “ever greater share of national income”.

In its November 2016 report, the committee recommended that the triple lock be replaced from 2020 by a smoothed earnings link. This would benchmark the state pension to a fixed proportion of average earnings in the long run, but would protect its purchasing power in times of inflation. Citing figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the committee said the state pension age would need to rise to 70.5 years by 2060 to make the triple lock affordable, “meaning today’s young would face working lives of over 50 years before receiving a state pension”. It added: “Making the triple lock sustainable would mean pushing the state pension age over average life expectancy in poorer areas of the UK”. Current male life expectancy is lowest in Blackpool, at 67.5, while it is 68.7 in parts of Bradford and 70.2 in much of Manchester. Tower Hamlets in London’s East End has a male life expectancy of 69.1.

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Dominoes.

NY Teamsters Pension Fund Becomes First To Run Out Of Money (NYDN)

Chmil is one of roughly 4,000 retired Teamsters across New York State suffering a fate that could soon hit millions of working-class Americans — the loss of their union pensions. Teamsters Local 707’s pension fund is the first to officially bottom out financially — which happened this month. “I had a union job for 30 years,” Chmil said. “We had collectively bargained contracts that promised us a pension. I paid into it with every paycheck. Everyone told us, ‘Don’t worry, you have a union job, your pension is guaranteed.’ Well, so much for that.” Also on the brink of drying up are the pensions for two Teamster locals — 641 and 560 — in New Jersey, union officials said. Plus 35,000 Teamster members upstate who are part of the money-hemorrhaging New York State Teamsters Pension Fund.

Bigger than all of New York’s Teamster locals combined is the Central States Pension Fund — another looming financial disaster that could leave 407,000 retirees without pensions across the Midwest and South. And there’s still more beyond that, in various industries, officials say. “It’s a nightmare, it has just devastated all of our lives. I’ve gone from having $48,000 a year to less than half that,” said Chmil, one of five Local 707 retirees who agreed to share their stories with the Daily News last week. “I don’t want other people to have to go through this. We need everyone to wake up and do something; that’s why we’re talking,” said Ray Narvaez. Narvaez, 77, got a union certificate upon retirement in 2003 that guaranteed him a lifetime pension of $3,479 a month. The former short-haul trucker — who carried local freight around the city — started hearing talk in 2008 of sinking finances in his union’s pension fund.

But the monthly checks still came — including a bonus “13th check” mailed from the union without fail every Dec. 15. Then Narvaez, like 4,000 other retired Teamster truckers, got a letter from Local 707 in February of last year. It said monthly pensions had to be slashed by more than a third. It was an emergency move to try to keep the dying fund solvent. That dropped Narvaez from nearly $3,500 to about $2,000. “They said they were running out of money, that there could be no more in the pension fund, so we had to take the cut,” said Narvaez, whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. The stopgap measure didn’t work — and after years of dangling over the precipice, Local 707’s pension fund fell off the financial cliff this month.

With no money left, it turned to Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government insurance company that covers pension. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. picked up Local 707’s retiree payouts — but the maximum benefit it gives a year is roughly $12,000, for workers who racked up at least 30 years. For those with less time on the job, the payouts are smaller.

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“Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties…”

US Baby Boomers Forced By Law To Start Drawing From Retirement Funds (MW)

Robert Kiyosaki, author of the “Rich Dad” series of books, has for years predicted an epic market crash when baby boomers, forced by law, start drawing from retirement funds in large numbers. That meltdown was supposed to happen last year. Instead, the bull market raged on: It will be eight years old in March, if measured by the 2009 bottom. Kiyosaki has drawn some flak along the way. Kiyosaki hasn’t given up on the prediction, however, he told MarketWatch in a late-January interview and a series of follow-up emails. Baby boomers still need to start drawing money in 2017, he notes: They hold about $10 trillion in tax-deferred savings accounts, according to Bank of New York Mellon; Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties. (There were nearly 75 million Boomers in 2015, according to Pew Research.)

“Every time I say that to people they scoff at me,” said Kiyosaki of his baby boomer meltdown theory. “The fact is, they’re pulling the money out…the thing that did happen that I never expected, was the market went up a lot due to the ‘Trump Bump.’” Early in 2016, when stocks posted their worst January since 2009, it looked like Kiyosaki might be right about the market. Stocks recovered only to slide on Brexit last summer and then fall briefly in an autumn pre-election dip. It’s been upward momentum ever since. The surprise election victory of President Donald Trump, who rallied investors with his promise to revamp the economy, further muddied the picture for Kiyosaki’s forecast. While stocks were already up about 4.3% before the election, its outcome boosted the S&P to finish 2016 with a 9.5% gain. The Dow industrials logged their best annual finish in 3 years, up 13.4%.

[..] Kiyosaki says 2016 brought about other, unexpected, crashes. “What has happened instead of a market crash was the crash in interest rates, which are adversely affecting millions of fixed-income retirees, pension plans, and savers — at the same time incentivizing people like me to become debtors, using debt to acquire income-producing real estate,” he said. Most retirement plans assume an 8% return, Kiyosaki said, but “when interest rates are a 1% or 0% or negative%, returns aren’t working.”

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Lots of numbers, but none really matter much. The crux is that if there are Greek pensions that are too high, for instance compared to other European ones, cut them, fine. But don’t cut ones that are already below and and all minimal limits. That is not even worth being labeled policy, it’s simply inhumane.

Greek Pensioners Brace For Latest Crisis Cuts (K.)

One group of Greeks that will look upon the return of creditors to Athens for talks aimed at completing the second review with some trepidation is the country’s 2.7 million pensioners. Since 2010, when Greece signed its first bailout with the eurozone and the IMF, the retirement age and social security contributions have increased, while pensions have come down. There is rarely a review that leaves pensions untouched and this one promises to be no different as lenders are targeting a reduction of annual pension spending by about 1.8 billion euros, or 1% of GDP. The IMF has been the most vociferous among Greece’s lenders regarding the need for a further overhaul of the country’s pension system to make it sustainable in the long run.

Between 2000 and 2010, pension spending in Greece climbed from 11 to 15% of GDP, mostly due to large increases in nominal pensions, generous benefits and options for early retirement. During this period, Greece’s figure was the second highest in the eurozone after that of Italy, according to the IMF. Despite two sets of reforms legislated in 2010 and 2012, pension expenditure continued rising and hit 17.7% in 2015, largely due to a GDP contracting by 25% while the average pension decreased by 8% between 2010 and 2015. The IMF believes the combination of low contribution revenues and high pension spending led to the pension deficit climbing from 7.3% of GDP in 2010 to 11% in 2015, making it by far the highest in the euro area.

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It’s about access to the ECB’s QE program, where Draghi starts buying Greek bonds. And perhaps even the markets too. That would hugely limit Greece’s dependence on the Troika.

Merkel Bypasses Schäuble To Push For Greek Review Conclusion (K.)

Kathimerini understands that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is prepared to do whatever it takes to conclude the second review of Greece’s third bailout so that it can join the ECB’s quantitative easing program (QE), on the condition that the government agrees to a package of pension cuts and a reduced tax threshold – amounting to roughly 2% of GDP. According to sources, Merkel has, to this end, already seized the initiative and met with ECB head Mario Draghi. The German chancellor is also expected to bypass any objections that may be raised by her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and will push for a specific outline of what midterm measures for debt relief will look like – once Greece agrees to measures demanded by the IMF.

Draghi, as well as ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure, have already made it clear that Greece can only join the QE mechanism if it concludes the review, and midterm measures for debt relief are in place – which is something that, so far, Schaeuble has opposed. Merkel’s plan stipulates that after a staff level agreement is reached, the Greek Parliament will vote through the measures. When this is done, the specifics of the debt relief measures will be presented as a carrot to Athens. This will open the way for it to join the QE scheme and the IMF to rejoin the Greek program.

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if this is true, it’s massive.

US Stepping In To Ease Greece, Turkey Tensions (K.)

Washington appears to have activated a channel of communication with Ankara in a bid to reduce the recent spike in tensions with Greece in the Aegean Sea. According to sources, the US recently asked Ankara to tone down its aggressive stance in the Aegean. It is not known how Ankara has taken the American initiative, but it is clear that Washington fears a possible incident in the Aegean between the two NATO allies, which could destabilize the alliance’s southeast wing. Meanwhile, the incendiary rhetoric emanating from Ankara, albeit from nongoverment politicians, continued Tuesday with the leader of the ultra-right MHP party Devlet Bahceli speaking of Greek islands that remained “under occupation.” Bahceli is an ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supports the bid by the Turkish president to expand his executive powers in the referendum that will take place in Turkey on April 16.

Citing what he described as international law, Bahceli called for the “unconditional end to the occupation of the islands,” referring to a string of islands and islets in the eastern Aegean. He went even further, referring to the Greek-Turkish war in 1922 and the way the Greek army was defeated by Turkish forces in Asia Minor – without, however, mentioning the Greek population of Turkey which was uprooted as a result of the war. “If [the Greeks] want to fall back into the sea [referring to how the Greek army was pushed out of Asia Minor] and if they are up to it, they are welcome to do it. The Turkish army is ready,” he said. The MHP leader also said the divided island of Cyprus is Turkish. Since the recent escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey, progress in the UN-backed peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots has stalled.

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Most remarkable thing must be that Trump has learned to read from a teleprompter, and was told to stick with only that.

Trump Touts Unity Strength In Speech To Congress (R.)

President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House. Trump, in a prime-time address to a country that remains divided over his leadership, set aside disputes with Democrats and the news media to deliver his most presidential performance to date, seeking to regain the confidence of Americans rattled by his leadership thus far. The president’s speech was long on promises but short on specifics on how to achieve a challenging legislative agenda that could add dramatically to budget deficits. He wants a healthcare overhaul, broad tax cuts and a $1 trillion public-private initiative to rebuild degraded roads and bridges.

Trump built a base of support behind his presidential campaign by vowing to fight illegal immigration. In his speech, he took a more moderate tone, appealing to Republicans and Democrats to work together on immigration reform. He said it was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise, although he also said U.S. immigration should be based on a merit-based system, rather than relying on lower-skilled immigrants. Comprehensive immigration reform eluded his two predecessors, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush, because of deep divisions within Congress and among Americans over the issue. Trump said reform would raise wages and help more struggling families enter the middle class. “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws,” said the Republican president.

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Dean Baker corrects the NYT.

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are Not Political Philosophers (Baker)

Apparently the paper is confused on this issue since it headlined a front page piece on the budget, “Trump budget sets up clash over ideology within G.O.P.” The article lays out this case in the fourth paragraph: “He [Trump] also set up a battle for control of Republican Party ideology with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who for years has staked his policy-making reputation on the argument that taming the budget deficit without tax increases would require that Congress change, and cut, the programs that swallow the bulk of the government’s spending — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” Most of us recognize Donald Trump and Paul Ryan as politicians who hold their jobs as a result of being able to gain the support of important interest groups. It really doesn’t make much difference what their political philosophy is.

Contrary to what the NYT might lead us to believe, this is not a battle of political philosophy, it is a battle over money. On this score, the NYT also gets matters seriously confused. First of all, it is wrong to describe Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as “the programs that swallow the bulk of government spending.” Under the law, Social Security can only spend money raised through its designated taxes, either currently or in the past. For this reason, it is not a drain on the rest of the budget unless Congress changes the law. Medicaid would also not rank among the three largest programs. The government is projected to spend $592 billion this year on the military compared to $401 billion on Medicaid.

The claim that Paul Ryan is concerned that these programs would “swallow the bulk of government spending” directly contradicts everything Paul Ryan has been explicitly advocating for years. Ryan has repeatedly put forward budgets that would reduce the size of the federal government to zero outside of the military, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It is difficult to understand how a major newspaper can so completely misrepresent a strongly and repeatedly stated view of one of the country’s most important political figures.

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Full blown insanity.

This Chart Signals China’s Housing Bubble May Burst Soon (ME)

The probability that a real estate bubble may burst in China is rising. The financial sector heavily depends on real estate, which in turn exposes the entire Chinese economy to systemic risk. This link means that a downturn in real estate could soon spread to other areas of the Chinese economy if banks face liquidity shortfalls. Also, falling housing prices could result in more non-performing loans (NPLs). While NPLs officially account for only 1.75% of all Chinese loans, the government is likely understating the figure. BMI Research, a financial consulting firm, estimated in a 2016 report that NPLs could be close to 20% of loans.

As banks gave more credit to real estate developers and buyers, their profitability stalled. In theory, China’s economy is not based on capitalism and thus doesn’t revolve around profitability; but in practice, money needs to come from somewhere. A company that doesn’t make a profit can’t survive in the long run. The Chinese government can’t afford to let banks fail since it would threaten both the financial system’s health and the key lifeline to state-owned enterprises that provide jobs. This surge in China’s real estate prices, fueled by ongoing credit expansion, are forcing the government to choose between deflating the housing market and slowing growth.

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Pipelines vs pipedreams.

Russia Seen Dominating European Energy for Two Decades (BBG)

Europe has wanted to wean itself from Russian natural gas ever since supplies from its eastern neighbor dropped during freezing weather in 2009. Almost a decade later, the region has never been more dependent. Gazprom, Russia’s state-run export monopoly, shipped a record amount of gas to the European Union last year and accounts for about 34% of the trading bloc’s use of the fuel. Russia will remain the biggest source of supply through 2035, Shell said last week, echoing comments by BP in January. EU lawmakers have had their hearts set on diversifying supplies with liquefied natural gas delivered by tanker from the U.S., where production of the fuel skyrocketed last year. So far, those shipments have failed to materialize amid a lack of firm contracts and higher prices outside Europe. Overall, LNG shipments to the region, led by Qatar, were stagnant last year. “Russia will for sure remain Europe’s largest gas supplier for at least two more decades,” even if most of the incremental gains in EU imports are met by LNG from somewhere else, said Vladimir Drebentsov, chief economist for Russia and CIS at BP in Moscow.

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It was once a good place to live.

Sydney Home Prices Surge 14.8%, Fastest Annual Pace Since 2002 (BBG)

Dwelling values in Australia’s largest city rose at the fastest annual pace in 14-years in February as record-low interest rates outweighed regulatory efforts to avert a housing bubble. Average values in Sydney surged by 18.4%, the biggest jump since December 2002 when the nation was at the tail-end of the early 2000’s housing boom, according to data provider CoreLogic Inc. Across the state capitals combined, values rose by 11.7%. Despite tighter lending restrictions aimed at discouraging speculative buying by landlords, the runaway housing market shows few signs of easing amid strong economic growth, historically low borrowing costs and a tax system that offers perks for property investors. Housing affordability has become a hot-button political issue, with New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian promising to make it one of her top priorities.

Last month, she appointed former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens to advise on the options. Central bank Governor Philip Lowe has signaled he’d prefer not to ease interest rates as it would further inflate Sydney house prices and drive already record household debt even higher, threatening financial stability. “The strong growth conditions across Sydney have provided a substantial wealth boost for home owners,” said Tim Lawless, head of research at CoreLogic. “However, the flipside is that housing costs are becoming increasingly out of reach.” Prices are now almost 8.5 times higher than household incomes in Sydney, according to CoreLogic. There are, however, considerable regional variations. Perth, in the mining heartland of Western Australia that’s suffering as a decade-long investment boom winds down, saw values fall by 4.5% in the year to February.

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You can’t easily tweak internation law on nuclear. For good reasons.

UK Nuclear Power Stations ‘Could Be Forced To Close’ After Brexit (G.)

Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned. Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt. The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards. “Unlike other arrangements, if we don’t get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we can’t arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.”

Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: “Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes.” Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: “It’s a political issue, not a legal issue.” The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee. “There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place,” said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013.

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Bur perhaps none of this matters in the long run, perhaps waste is the inevitable consequence of the need to feel rich, be rich. As Ken Latta put it in his February 23 article here at the Automatic Earth: “wealth is best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful”.

Denmark Reduces Food Waste By 25% In 5 Years With Help Of One Woman (Ind.)

Never underestimate the power of one dedicated individual. A woman has been credited by the Danish Government for single-handedly helping the country reduce its food waste by 25% in just five years. Selina Juul, who moved from Russian to Denmark when she was 13 years old, was shocked by the amount of food available and wasted at supermarkets. She told the BBC: “I come from a country where there were food shortages, we had the collapse of infrastructure, communism collapsed, we were not sure we could get food on the table”. Her organisation, Stop Spild Af Mad – which translates as Stop Wasting Food – made all the difference and is recognised as one of the key drivers behind the government’s focus to tackle food waste.

“She was this crazy Russian woman that walked in the door, with a crazy idea about stop wasting food and she has come really far since,” Maria Noel, communication officer of Dagrofa, a Danish retail company, told the BBC. “She basically changed the entire mentality in Danemark,” she added. Ms Juul convinced Rema 1000, the country’s biggest low-cost supermarket chain, to replace all its quantity discounts with single item discounts to minimise food waste. Max Skov Hanser, a grocer at Rema 1000, said the retailer wasted about 80 to 100 bananas every day. However, after the supermarket put up a sign saying “take me I’m single”, it reduced the waste on bananas by 90%. In the past five years Denmark has become one of the leading European countries in the fight against food waste. Last year, a charity in Copenhagen opened Denmark’s first ever food surplus supermarket, which sells products at prices 30 to 50% cheaper than usual retailers.

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On Wendell Berry.

The World-Ending Fire – How America’s Farmers Betrayed The Land (G.)

Berry’s essays roam widely over such topics as “Writer and Region” (an A-grade discussion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), “The Work of Local Culture” and his high-minded disinclination to swap his ancient typewriter for a computer (complete with several shocked technophile responses). But the majority of them return, out of a kind of disgust, to the idea of betrayal, and the way in which the US farming industry has abandoned its responsibility to the terrain it has been cultivating for the last century and a half. The startling aspect of this charge sheet is its proxy villain, which is neither the cereal companies nor the burger chains but the American dream. Ronald Reagan once named his favourite children’s books as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, in which the resourceful Ingalls family head west across the newly available prairie states.

Pa chops trees, builds shacks and plants corn while Ma keeps house and thinks the native population “dirty”. To Berry, by contrast, the Pa Ingallses of the 1870s midwest are simply opportunists casting aside the old ways without bothering to reflect on their value, exploiters whose hard work and high moral tone obscure the absence of any real relationship with the land they are bent on despoiling. “A Native Hill”, a series of pointed reflections on the landscape of Henry County, Kentucky, notes that the original inhabitants had managed to preserve its integrity for thousands of years. The pioneers “in a century and half plundered the area of at least half its topsoil and virtually all its forest”, and constructed a road they may not have needed in the first place.

On the one hand, Berry is placing the Native American Indians and Pa Ingalls in false opposition: the effervescing Ingalls brood were different kinds of people – most obviously, nomads and settlers – wanting different things from the world they inhabited. On the other hand, Berry’s agrarian arguments are persuasive. To produce five feet of topsoil, he suggests in “The Making of a Marginal Farm”, takes 50,000 to 60,000 years. Meanwhile, the rallying cries are mounting up: think small; distrust the combines; a family can live for a year off a 60 sq ft vegetable plot; nobody ever did themselves any good by living in a city (he derides “the assumption that the life of the metropolis is the experience, the modern experience … ”).

As for The World-Ending Fire’s implications, you can just about envisage a future in which, once the fossil fuels have run out, necessity forces us all to live in smaller, self-sustaining societies without the benefit of the internal combustion engine. So perhaps Berry will have the last laugh. Whether by that stage in human evolution it will be worth having is another matter.

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Feb 212017
 
 February 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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DPC Masonic Temple, New Orleans 1910

 


Greece: The Economic Consequences of Depression Economics (Prime)
After Seven Years Of Bailouts, Greeks Sink Yet Deeper In Poverty (R.)
Greece’s Creditors Dash Hopes For Quick Deal (Tel.)
Greek Government In Damage Control Mode After Giving In To Troika, Again (K.)
Mr Draghi, What Are You Afraid Of? Release #TheGreekFiles! (DiEM25)
Fumbling Towards Collapse (Jim Kunstler)
Why Trumponomics Will Fail Spectacularly (Robert Reich)
Saudi Arabia Breaks Records on Oil Exports and Output for (BBG)
Chinese Banks’ Off-Book Wealth Products Exceed $3.8 Trillion (BBG)
Why Toronto (and Other Cities) Inflate Housing Bubbles to the Bitter End (WS)
Refugee Claimants From US Strain Canada’s Border Resources (R.)
‘Casa Nostra, Casa Vostra’ (K.)

 

 

A theoretical approach to austerity as a creator of poverty.

Greece: The Economic Consequences of Depression Economics (Prime)

The policy debate in Greece and the EU is burdened with hysteria over the issue of budget deficit and public debt. The proposition is that the less the governments borrow the better and, therefore, the main policy has been to put pressure on the State to curtail as far as possible all capital expenditure, without concern on how productive and desirable that is in itself. The idea is that cuts in government expenditures are not to be used by the government to tax the general population less but to borrow less on the assumption that if the government borrows less the private sector necessarily borrows more, though taxing less the highest rungs of the income distribution might be desirable as it is considered as an incentive to investment.

Second, led by the belief that the main thrust of policy should be internal devaluation, a program of cutbacks in expenditures, decrease in deficits and debts and wage and income restraint is pursued even in a time of recession. The idea is that if producers have reduced costs of production they will produce more and the prices of the produced goods will fall as much as wages. However, as Keynes pointed out that there is no reason to expect that any reduction of purchasing power will be offset by increases in other directions. Certainly, this reduction of purchasing power may cause a reduction of domestic expenditures on imports, which may improve the trade balance. It may also reduce savings, as public employees and others whose salaries are cut and those who lost their jobs may save less or draw on their passed savings to maintain their habitual standard of life.

However, producers will find that the expenditures of consumers (public employees, pensioners, unemployed) are reduced. Consequently, they can only match this reduction of revenue by either cutting down their own expenditure or making redundant some of their employees or both. As a necessary consequence of reduced incomes and profits there should be an increase in unemployment and a decrease in government tax revenues. Importantly, as Keynes noticed, deflation of wages, incomes and prices transfers wealth from the rest of the public to the rentiers and to those who hold titles to money. In effect, internal devaluation redistributes wealth as it transfers money from borrowers to lenders. The real assets in the country constitute the wealth of its citizens. Such real assets are buildings, stocks of commodities, goods in the process of production and the like. As is the usual practice, owners of these assets frequently purchase them by borrowing money.

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Don’t forget, it’s not Greece that’s being bailed out.

After Seven Years Of Bailouts, Greeks Sink Yet Deeper In Poverty (R.)

Greek pensioner Dimitra says she never imagined a life reduced to food handouts: some rice, two bags of pasta, a packet of chickpeas, some dates and a tin of milk for the month. At 73, Dimitra – who herself once helped the hard-up as a Red Cross food server – is among a growing number of Greeks barely getting by. After seven years of bailouts that poured billions of euros into their country, poverty isn’t getting any better; it’s getting worse like nowhere else in the EU. “It had never even crossed my mind,” she said, declining to give her last name because of the stigma still attached to accepting handouts in Greece. “I lived frugally. I’ve never even been on holiday. Nothing, nothing, nothing.” Now more than half of her €332 ($350) monthly income goes to renting a tiny Athens apartment. The rest: bills.

The global financial crisis and its fallout forced four euro zone countries to turn to international lenders. Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus all went through rescues and are back out, their economies growing again. But Greece, the first into a bailout in 2010, has needed three. Rescue funds from the EU and IMF saved Greece from bankruptcy, but the austerity and reform policies the lenders attached as conditions have helped to turn recession into a depression. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose leftist-led government is lagging in opinion polls, has tried to make the plight of Greeks a rallying cry in the latest round of drawn-out negotiations with the lenders blocking the release of more aid. “We must all be careful towards a country that has been pillaged and people who have made, and are continuing to make, so many sacrifices in the name of Europe,” he said this month.

Much of the vast sums in aid money has simply been in the form of new debt used to repay old borrowings. But regardless of who is to blame for the collapse in living standards, poverty figures from the EU statistics agency are startling. Greece isn’t the poorest member of the EU; poverty rates are higher in Bulgaria and Romania. But Greece isn’t far behind in third place, with Eurostat data showing 22.2% of the population were “severely materially deprived” in 2015. And whereas the figures have dropped sharply in the post-communist Balkan states – by almost a third in Romania’s case – the Greek rate has almost doubled since 2008, the year the global crisis erupted. Overall, the EU level fell from 8.5% to 8.1% over the period. The reality of such statistics becomes clear at places like the food bank run by the Athens municipality where Dimitra collects her monthly handouts.

Here, dozens more Greeks waited solemnly with a ticket in hand to get their share. All are registered as living below the poverty line of about €370 a month. “The needs are huge,” said Eleni Katsouli, a municipal official in charge of the center. Figures for the food bank, which serves central Athens, show a similar trend on a local scale to the wider Eurostat data. About 11,000 families – or 26,000 people – are registered there, up from just 2,500 in 2012 and 6,000 in 2014, Katsouli said. About 5,000 are children.

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Delusional theoretics: “..a greater emphasis on growth..”

Greece’s Creditors Dash Hopes For Quick Deal (Tel.)

Greece’s creditors have dashed hopes of a quick resolution to the country’s looming cash crunch, even as talks paved the way for debt inspectors to return to Athens. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the Eurogroup, told reporters that there had been a “clear shift” in creditor demands following a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels on Monday. Yields on Greek government bonds fell sharply after he announced that representatives from the European Commission and IMF would return to Athens to thrash out an “additional package of structural reforms” to support long term growth and debt sustainability. Greece needs around €7bn in fresh rescue funds before July in order to cover substantial debt repayments to the ECB and private creditors. The Dutch finance minister said new measures would be “designed and agreed on the ground” in Athens, with a greater emphasis on growth.

“At face value, that means less tax rises and spending cuts and deep reforms to the country’s tax system, pensions and labour laws,” Mr Dijsselbloem told reporters. However, he played down reaching a solution before Dutch elections next month or even the French presidential election in May and said creditors were “looking towards the summer” for an agreement. “There is still a lot of work to do, a lot of issues to discuss and calibrate so I want to temper expectations,” he said. “There is no need for a disbursement in March, April or May.” Mr Dijsselbloem also signalled that differences remained between Greece, Brussels and the IMF over the reforms needed to unlock the next loan tranche and secure the institution’s participation in Greece’s third, €86bn rescue package.

Speaking after the meeting, a Greek government official said Athens was prepared to implement reforms beyond 2019. The official added: “The agreement includes the inviolable condition that was set by the Greek side for not even one euro more of austerity.” However, Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for economic and financial affairs, signalled that structural reforms, including pension cuts as well as tax and labour reforms would be required before pro-growth measures could be sanctioned. “I think that one word was forgotten [in the Greek official’s statement]. That was ‘net’,” he said.

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This one may be hard for Tsipras to explain. What’s the use of red lines if they mean nothing?

Greek Government In Damage Control Mode After Giving In To Troika, Again (K.)

After the government backed down on its vow not to take new measures at Monday’s Eurogroup, its number one priority now is damage control. In the runup to Monday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers, Athens had insisted it had drawn its “red lines,” but it left Brussels having promised its EU partners that it will legislate measures after the current bailout program expires in 2018, in exchange for the return of technical experts to Athens in the bid to conclude the second review of the country’s third bailout. Faced with the challenge of explaining its turnaround and agreement to take new measures to an increasingly disillusioned electorate and lawmakers of ruling SYRIZA and Independent Greeks (ANEL), the government is using the term “neutral fiscal balance” in an attempt to sweeten the pill.

According to government sources, the term essentially means that for every euro saved from the new measures, there will be equivalent reductions in value-added, corporate or property taxes. In other words, the government’s narrative is that even though new measures will be implemented, these will be neutral as their burden will be canceled out by tax relief. Senior government officials were also busy laying the groundwork last week, saying that the government may have to accept new measures “for the good of the country” as the protracted negotiations to conclude the review were having a negative impact on the prospects of the country’s economic recovery.

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Nice legal twist.

Mr Draghi, What Are You Afraid Of? Release #TheGreekFiles! (DiEM25)

Deep in a vault in the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) lie #TheGreekFiles, a legal opinion about the ECB’s actions towards Greece in 2015 that could send shockwaves across Europe. As a European taxpayer, you paid for these documents. But the ECB’s boss, ex-Goldman Sachs head Mario Draghi, says you can’t see them. So former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and MEP Fabio de Masi, together with a broad alliance of politicians and academics (below), have announced they will file a mass freedom of information request to the ECB to uncover #TheGreekFiles once and for all. If Mario says no, they’ll take the campaign to the next level, and consider all options – including legal action – to make this vital information public. Support their request to release critical documents you paid for by signing this petition now!

What are #TheGreekFiles? In June 2015, the newly-elected Greek government was locked in tense negotiations with its creditors (the ‘Troika’ – the ECB, EC and IMF), doing what it had been voted in to do: renegotiate the country’s public debt, fiscal policy and reform agenda, and save its people from the hardship of the most crushing austerity programme in modern history. The Troika knew they needed to make a drastic move to force the Greek government to capitulate. And that’s just what they did: through the ECB, they took action to force Greece’s banks to close, ultimately driving the Greek government – against its democratic mandate – to accept the country’s third ‘bailout’, together with new austerity measures and new reductions in national sovereignty.

But in their haste, their zeal to crush the Greek government’s resistance, the ECB feared their actions might be legally dubious. So they commissioned a private law firm to examine whether those decisions were legal. The legal opinion of this law firm is contained in #TheGreekFiles. In July 2015, the German MEP Fabio De Masi asked Mario Draghi to release the legal opinion. Mario refused, hiding behind ‘attorney-client privilege’. Clearly #TheGreekFiles contain something he doesn’t want you to see. One of the foremost experts on European Law, Professor Andreas Fischer-Lescano, examined whether the ECB was right to refuse to release #TheGreekFiles. His detailed conclusion leaves no room for doubt: the ECB has no case for withholding from MEPs and the citizens of Europe the legal opinion the ECB secured (and paid for using your money) regarding its own conduct.

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“..lost in a hall of mirrors with the lights off..” Building infrastructure for a world that’s gone, strip malls etc.

Fumbling Towards Collapse (Jim Kunstler)

[..] the real issue hidden in plain sight is how America — indeed all the so-called “developed” nations — are going to navigate to a stepped-down mode of living, without slip-sliding all the way into a dark age, or something worse. By the way, the Ole Maestro, Alan Greenspan, also chimed in on the “productivity” question last week to equally specious effect in this Business Insider article. None of these celebrated Grand Viziers knows what the fuck he’s talking about, and a nation depending on their guidance will find itself lost in a hall of mirrors with the lights off. So, on one side you have Trump and his trumpets and trumpistas heralding the return of “greatness” (i.e. a booming industrial economy of happy men with lunchboxes) which is not going to happen; and on the other side you have a claque of clueless technocrats who actually believe they can “solve” the productivity problem with measures that really only boil down to different kinds of accounting fraud.

You also have an American public, and a mass media, who do not question the premise of a massive “infrastructure” spending project to re-boot the foundering economy. If you ask what they mean by that, you will learn that they uniformly see rebuilding our highways, bridges, tunnels, and airports. Some rightly suspect that the money for that is not there – or can only be summoned with more accounting fraud (borrowing from our future). But on the whole, most adults of all political stripes in this country think we can and should do this, that it would be a good thing. And what is this infrastructure re-boot in the service of? A living arrangement with no future. A matrix of extreme car dependency that has zero chance of continuing another decade. More WalMarts, Target stores, Taco Bells, muffler shops, McHousing subdivisions, and other accoutrement of our fast-zombifying mode of existence? Isn’t it obvious, even if you never heard of, or don’t understand, the oil quandary, that we have shot our wad with all this? That we have to start down a different path if we intend to remain human?

It’s not hard to describe that waiting world, which I’ve done in a bunch of recent books. We’re going there whether we like it or not. But we can make the journey to it easier or harsher depending on how much we drag our heels getting on with the job. History is pretty unforgiving. Right now, the dynamic I describe is propelling us toward a difficult reckoning, which is very likely to manifest this spring as the political ineptitude of Trump, and the antipathy of his enemies, leaves us in a constitutional maelstrom at the very moment when the financial system comes unglued. Look for the debt ceiling debate and another Federal Reserve interest rate hike to set off the latter. There may be yet another converging layer of tribulation when we start blaming all our problems on Russia, China, Mexico, or some other patsy nation. It’s already obvious that we can depend on the Deep State to rev that up.

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US manufacturing is inferior.

Why Trumponomics Will Fail Spectacularly (Robert Reich)

When Donald Trump gave a speech last Friday at Boeing’s factory in North Charleston, South Carolina – unveiling Boeing’s new 787 “Dreamliner” – he congratulated Boeing for building the plane “right here” in South Carolina. It’s pure fantasy. I’ll let you know why in a moment. Trump also used the occasion to tout his “America First” economics, stating “our goal as a nation must be to rely less on imports and more on products made here in the U.S.A.” and “we want products made by our workers in our factories stamped by those four magnificent words, ‘Made in the U.S.A.’” To achieve this goal Trump would impose “a very substantial penalty” on companies that fired their workers and moved to another country to make a product, and then tried to sell it back to America. The carrot would be lower taxes and fewer regulations “that send our jobs to those other countries.” Trump seems utterly ignorant about global competition – and about what’s really holding back American workers.

Start with Boeing’s Dreamliner itself. It’s not “made in the U.S.A..” It’s assembled in the United States. But most of it parts come from overseas. Those foreign parts total almost a third of the cost of the entire plane. For example: The Italian firm Alenia Aeronautica makes the center fuselage and horizontal stabilizers. The French firm Messier-Dowty makes the aircraft’s landing gears and doors. The German firm Diehl Luftfahrt Elektronik supplies the main cabin lighting. The Swedish firm Saab Aerostructures makes the cargo access doors. The Japanese company Jamco makes parts for the lavatories, flight deck interiors and galleys. The French firm Thales makes its electrical power conversion system. Thales selected GS Yuasa, a Japanese firm, in 2005 to supply it with the system’s lithium-ion batteries. The British company Rolls Royce makes many of the engines. A Canadian firm makes the moveable trailing edge of the wings.

Notably, these companies don’t pay their workers low wages. In fact, when you add in the value of health and pension benefits – either directly from these companies to their workers, or in the form of public benefits to which the companies contribute – most of these foreign workers get a better deal than do Boeing’s workers. (The average wage for Boeing production and maintenance workers in South Carolina is $20.59 per hour, or $42,827 a year.) They also get more paid vacation days. These nations also provide most young people with excellent educations and technical training. They continuously upgrade the skills of their workers. And they offer universally-available health care. To pay for all this, these countries also impose higher tax rates on their corporations and wealthy individuals than does the United States. And their health, safety, environmental, and labor regulations are stricter.

Not incidentally, they have stronger unions. So why is so much of Boeing’s Dreamliner coming from these high-wage, high-tax, high-cost places?

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Yeah, big cuts, remember?

Saudi Arabia Breaks Records on Oil Exports and Output for (BBG)

Saudi Arabia boosted oil exports and production last year to the highest monthly averages on record as the global crude market endured oversupply. Exports climbed to 7.65 million barrels a day on average last year, from 7.39 million barrels a day a year earlier, according to Joint Organisations Data Initiative monthly data compiled by Bloomberg. Production rose to 10.46 million barrels a day from 10.19 million, on average, over the same period. Saudi Arabia led the push by global producers to end a crude glut by cutting output as of Jan. 1. JODI data indicate that the kingdom’s exports surged to more than 8 million barrels a day in November and December right before the cuts were due to start. Shipments in November were the highest since May 2003, JODI data show.

“Whenever there was no agreement with others, Saudi Arabia was running after expanding its market share,” said Mohamed Ramady, an independent analyst in London. Saudi Arabia pumped 10.2 million barrels to 10.67 million barrels a day in the first 10 months as producers discussed output cuts without making an agreement. It reined in production in January following the deal between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC nations to reduce output by 1.8 million barrels a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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This is just a part of the shadow banking sector, the part that’s held by official banks.

Chinese Banks’ Off-Book Wealth Products Exceed $3.8 Trillion (BBG)

Chinese banks had more than 26 trillion yuan ($3.8 trillion) of wealth-management products held off their balance sheets at the end of December, a 30% increase from a year earlier, according to the central bank. The expansion of this form of shadow banking, with money eventually being diverted to quasi-loans and bonds, outpaced the 10% growth for normal lending during the same period, raising risks for the broader economy and undermining the country’s “deleveraging” efforts, the People’s Bank of China said Friday in its quarterly monetary policy report. The central bank is including off-balance sheet WMPs in its so-called macro prudential assessment framework starting this quarter to better gauge the expansion of credit and potential risks in the financial system.

The move will probably lead to banks reporting higher credit growth and may require them to take steps to maintain sufficient capital reserves to limit risks posed by the investment products. Since late 2014, the China Banking Regulatory Commission has been tightening rules on WMPs, most of which are non-principal guaranteed, meaning they can reside off banks’ balance sheets. The products are a key reason behind the growth of shadow banking in China, and have been used by some financial institutions as a way to extend funds to risky borrowers and evade capital requirements. The investment vehicles are asset-management products by nature and therefore investors should shoulder any risks by themselves, the central bank said in its report. More work is needed to solve problems such as the real amount of capital banks should hold to cover WMPs, risk segmentation, regulatory arbitrage, and the perception of an implicit guarantee of repayment, the PBOC said.

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Tax addiction.

Why Toronto (and Other Cities) Inflate Housing Bubbles to the Bitter End (WS)

“Let’s drop the pretense. The Toronto housing market and the many cities surrounding it are in a housing bubble,” Bank of Montreal (BMO) Chief Economist Doug Porter told clients in a note last week. Many have called it “housing bubble” for a while, but now it’s official, according to BMO. In January, the benchmark price and the average price were both up 22% year-over-year, with the average price of detached homes up 26%, of semi-detached homes 28%, of townhouses 27%, and of condos 15%. Double-digit price increases have become the rule in recent years. But this jump was “the fastest increase since the late 1980s – a period pretty much everyone can agree was a true bubble – and a cool 21 percentage points faster than inflation and/or wage growth,” Porter explained in his note, cited by BNN.

Home prices in Greater Toronto have become “dangerously detached” from economic fundamentals and are soaring simply on the belief that they will continue to soar, he wrote. “The market is far too hot for comfort.” BNN: “The often-cited mantra that Toronto’s real estate market is being driven largely by a lack of supply is wearing thin, he argues. Housing starts in Toronto and Vancouver recently hit an all-time high of 70,000 units per year and overall Canadian starts are above demographic demand at 200,000 units in the past year, according to BMO.” The “massive price gains” are not driven by lack of supply, but “first and foremost by sizzling hot demand, whether from ultra-low interest rates (negative in real terms), robust population growth, or non-resident investor demand.”

“Toronto and any city that is remotely within commuting distance are overheating, and perhaps dangerously so,” he said. But don’t expect the city of Toronto to do anything other than inflate the bubble further. It has to – unless it wants to fall into a fiscal and financial sinkhole. This became apparent last week, when the city councilors approved Toronto’s operating and capital budgets. What a mess!

The tax-supported operating budget is now expected to grow by 4.4% in 2017, to C$10.5 billion. So more taxes must be extracted from the hapless folks in Toronto. Among sundry fees, taxes, and levies, the councilors approved a 3.29% increase in the residential property tax and raised the municipal land transfer tax. Under the new budget, property taxes would provide 38% of the revenues, and the land transfer tax 7%, for a total of 45% of the C$10.5 billion in taxes, or C$4.7 billion. Just how dependent the funding for Toronto’s ballooning operating budget has become on the house price bubble – and the property-related taxes it generates – is made clear in this chart by Warren Lovely, Head of Public Sector Research & Strategy at National Bank Financial, Toronto:

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A most curious difference.

Refugee Claimants From US Strain Canada’s Border Resources (R.)

Canadian police said on Monday they had bolstered their presence at the Quebec border and that border authorities had created a temporary refugee center to process a growing number of asylum seekers crossing from the United States. The Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, said at a news conference that it had converted an unused basement into a refugee claimant processing center. Both the border agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reassigning staff from other locations in the province, as needed, to accommodate rising demand. The CBSA said the number of people making refugee claims at Quebec-U.S. border crossings more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last month, 452 people made claims in Quebec compared with 137 in January 2016, the agency said.

The influx is straining police, federal government and community resources from the western prairie province of Manitoba, where people arrive frostbitten from hours walking in freezing conditions, to Quebec, where cabs drop asylum seekers off meters away from the Quebec-U.S.border, the border agency said. A Reuters reporter on Monday saw RCMP officers take in for questioning a family of four – two men, a woman and a baby in a car seat – who had walked across the snowy gully dividing Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, from Chemin Roxham in Hemmingford, Quebec. “Please explain to her that she’s in Canada,” one Canadian officer told another officer.

Police take people crossing the border in for questioning at the border agency’s office in Lacolle, Quebec, which is the province’s biggest and busiest border crossing. Police identify them and ensure they are not a threat or carrying contraband. They are then transferred to the CBSA for fingerprinting and further questions. If people are deemed a threat or flight risk, they are detained. If not, they can file refugee claims and live in Canada while they wait for a decision “It’s touching, and we are not insensitive to that,” Bryan Byrne, the RCMP’s Champlain Detachment commander, told reporters near the border. “Some of these people had a long journey. Some are not dressed for the climate here.”

Asylum seekers cross illegally because Canada’s policy under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is to turn back refugees if they make claims at border crossings. But as U.S. President Donald Trump cracks down on illegal immigrants, Amnesty International and refugee advocacy groups are pressuring the Canadian government to abandon the agreement, arguing the United States is no safe haven. On Monday, Montreal, Canada’s second most populous city, voted to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” making it the fourth Canadian city to protect illegal immigrants and to provide services to them.

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European governments criticizing Trump’s refugee policies have no credibility. But the people still can.

‘Casa Nostra, Casa Vostra’ (K.)

Thousands of people marched through the streets of downtown Barcelona on Saturday shouting the slogan “Casa nostra, casa vostra” (Our home, your home). Barcelona had prepared its plan for welcoming Syrian and Iraqi refugees back in September 2015. It put its municipal services on standby and organized an army of volunteers, whose generosity inspired residents in Madrid and Valencia to open their own cities to refugees. In the meantime, much of the rest of Europe was busy building walls, fencing itself in, warding inflows off, hardening its laws and ignoring not just the plight of the refugees themselves, but also the difficulties faced by Greece and Italy, Lesvos and Lampedusa. This amazing show of solidarity – not rhetorical but actual and tangible – from the Catalans convinced the Spanish government to raise its commitment for taking in refugees trapped in Greece and Italy from the 2,749 it had initially agreed to up to 17,680.

But numbers often suffer the same fate as words, dying out without leaving a single political or moral trace. Up until February 2016, just 18 refugees had been relocated to Spain, a number that makes sense when you consider that of the 160,000 relocations agreed on by the countries of the European Union, just 600 had actually taken place by that time. This failure to live up to commitments prompted Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau at this precise time last year to lash out against the Spanish government and the strategy centers in Brussels, which seem happy to confine their action to the deal made between the European Union and Turkey, even though this has been condemned by every respected humanitarian organization.

Colau’s protests fell on deaf ears, so on August 1, 2016, authorities in Barcelona placed a “counter of shame” on the city’s most popular beach, recording daily how many people are lost at sea in their effort to escape war or extreme poverty. We don’t know whether the counter triggered any feelings of guilt, but it certainly failed to awaken any sense of responsibility. When it was inaugurated, the number of victims stood at 3,034. By the end of the year, and according to official data from Europe, ever the passive observer, this surpassed 5,000. And as far as relocations to Spain go, these barely came to more than 1,000 last year. This, in general terms, is the background of that very encouraging rally we saw in Barcelona on Saturday. Whether the people who took to the streets were motived by their feelings or by their ideological beliefs is a question that only means something to those who think ideology is a fixation and feelings a sign of immaturity.

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Feb 062017
 
 February 6, 2017  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Steve Schapiro Robert Kennedy US Presidential Campaign 1968

 


Trump Travel Ban- What Happens Now (BBC)
Trump Faces Uphill Battle To Overcome Court’s Hold On Travel Ban (R.)
President Trump’s Major Asian Breakthrough (CNBC)
Believe It Or Not, Deluded Republicans Have Got It Right On Tax Reform (Chu)
Is America in a Bubble & Will America Ever Return to “Normal” (CH)
Trump Is No Fascist. He Is A Champion For The Forgotten Millions (G.)
India Weighs Up The Return On Basic Income For The Poorest (G.)
Scotland Needs Publicly Funded Bank, Says Thinktank (G.)
Greek Debt Crisis: An Existentialist Drama With No Good End In Sight (G.)
Testing Europe’s Values (NYT)
EU Leaders Back Libyans To Curb New Migrant Wave (R.)
Hunger Strikers At Greek Refugee Camp Keep Minister, Police Out (K.)

 

 

It’ll be hard for any court to claim the ban is legal. The fact that is was obviously hastily slapped together doesn’t help Trump’s case. And there are a variety of additional cases pending.

Trump Travel Ban- What Happens Now (BBC)

The next step is for briefs to be filed by both sides for a formal review of Judge Robart’s suspension on Monday. The Justice Department could have appealed directly to the Supreme Court on an emergency basis, but it chose not to since the appeal court is moving fairly quickly. If the appeals court decides the stay is valid – perhaps as early as next week – then a Supreme Court appeal is almost certain. In the meantime, everything is on hold. US immigration processes continue as they did before Mr Trump issued his executive order. If it looks like this is bogging down, the president might eventually decide to modify the order rather than try to defend its legality. That’s probably the most prudent course, but he’s a stubborn man.

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“I think the court’s going to feel every reason to stay on the sidelines as long as possible..” If there is no swift decision, and it doesn’t look that way, the order will have to be significantly changed, perhaps so much it largely becomes moot.

Trump Faces Uphill Battle To Overcome Court’s Hold On Travel Ban (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump faces an uphill battle to overcome a federal judge’s temporary hold on his travel ban on seven mainly Muslim countries, but the outcome of a ruling on the executive order’s ultimate legality is less certain. Any appeals of decisions by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle face a regional court dominated by liberal-leaning judges who might not be sympathetic to Trump’s rationale for the ban, and a currently shorthanded Supreme Court split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives. The temporary restraining order Robart issued on Friday in Seattle, which applies nationwide, gives him time to consider the case in more detail, but also sends a signal that he is likely to impose a more permanent injunction.

The Trump administration has appealed that order. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said late on Saturday that it would not decide whether to lift the judge’s ruling, as requested by the U.S. government, until it receives briefs from both sides, with the administration’s filing due on Monday. Appeals courts are generally leery of upending the status quo, which in this case – for now – is the suspension of the ban. The upheaval prompted by the new Republican administration’s initial announcement of the ban on Jan. 27, with travelers detained at airports upon entering the country, would potentially be kickstarted again if Robart’s stay was lifted. The appeals court might also take into account the fact that there are several other cases around the country challenging the ban.

If it were to overturn the district court’s decision, another judge somewhere else in the United States could impose a new order, setting off a new cascade of court filings. If the appeals court upholds the order, the administration could immediately ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. But the high court is generally reluctant to get involved in cases at a preliminary stage, legal experts said. The high court is short one justice, as it has been for a year, leaving it split between liberals and conservatives. Any emergency request by the administration would need five votes to be granted, meaning at least one of the liberals would have to vote in favor. “I think the court’s going to feel every reason to stay on the sidelines as long as possible,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

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Interesting take on power politics.

President Trump’s Major Asian Breakthrough (CNBC)

On a visit to Tokyo and Seoul last week, the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (a) reaffirmed security guarantees to Japan and South Korea, (b) set the stage for an integrated American, Japanese and South Korean political, economic and military alliance, (c) opened the way for President Trump to knock heads together in Tokyo and Seoul to set aside their divisive historical grievances if they wanted Washington’s umbrella and (d) told Pyongyang that our nuke operators knew the return address for a swift and devastating response if they ever saw a wrong move on their X-band radar. That is a major breakthrough because no previous administration succeeded in binding these three countries in such a strong and integrated alliance. Japan was repeatedly blamed for scuttling these efforts by its allegedly defiant attitude toward Korean grievances.

Japan also wanted to make money in China while leveraging American protection in its territorial disputes with Beijing. As recently as 2014, a quarter of Japan’s exports and a third of its foreign direct investments were going to the Middle Kingdom. But Tokyo would run for cover in Washington whenever the Chinese navy and air force would challenge Japan’s presence on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. At the same time, Japan was enjoying annual trade surpluses with the U.S. of $67-$70 billion. And just a week ago, the Japanese were telling Washington that they could not buy American cars because the steering wheel was on the wrong side. [..] That has to stop. And it, apparently, will stop. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is coming to Washington next Friday (Feb. 10) with trade and investment initiatives.

But, true to form, whatever that is will probably fall far short of a trade deal Washington needs to address its excessive and structural trade imbalances with Japan. We have an even worse trade record with South Korea. Since the free-trade agreement became effective in early 2012, our trade deficit with Seoul has nearly doubled to an estimated $30 billion in 2016. Maybe we have to take a look at that, too. Building on last week’s accords, Washington has an opportunity to conclude an appropriate trade arrangement with Japan and South Korea. That would cover nearly 25% of the global economy and would represent by far the world’s largest free-trade area. Such an agreement would attract other Asia-Pacific countries to permanently anchor a decisive American political, economic and security presence in that part of the world. Washington’s bargaining power with China would be greatly strengthened by these events in a negotiating process that is apparently already under way.

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“..the great advantage of this reform is that it would eliminate the incentive for multinational firms to dodge their US corporate taxes through accounting tricks..”

Believe It Or Not, Deluded Republicans Have Got It Right On Tax Reform (Chu)

[..] we find ourselves in the paradoxical situation where a reform being presented by deluded right-wing American politicians as a way of sticking it to cheating foreigners actually represents the world’s best chance for lancing the boil of rampant tax evasion by multinational companies. It is the right thing being pushed for the wrong reasons. To understand why, we need to look at the plan in more detail. The Republican plan would replace the US corporation tax, an annual levy on a firm’s reported profits, with a new levy on a company’s domestic cash flow. It means taxing a company’s domestic sales at a certain rate, probably 20%, after it has subtracted its domestic costs such as workers’ wages and the amount the firm has spent on investment in new factories and equipment.

The objective would be to tax a company’s economic activity in America, which means that it would be able to reduce its tax bill by the value of its exports, while imports would be part of its taxable liability via a “border adjustment tax”. That probably sounds mind-numbingly complicated, but the principle is actually quite simple: it means taxing the firm’s value-adding and substantive economic activity in the country where that activity actually takes place. This is most people’s idea of what a tax on corporate income is supposed to do. Many have objected that US firms that import heavily will be placed at a major tax disadvantage. Yet this impact would be entirely offset by a rise in value of the US dollar, which would follow the implementation of the reform, and which would increase the purchasing power of importers proportionately.

And for all Brady’s rhetoric and the protectionist-sounding border tax, the effect of the reform would actually be neutral on America’s terms of trade with the rest of the world. But the great advantage of this reform is that it would eliminate the incentive for multinational firms to dodge their US corporate taxes through accounting tricks, such as registering profits at subsidiaries abroad and relocating their corporate headquarters to tax havens. No matter where they based their headquarters, multinationals would be liable for a hefty US tax bill if they sold plenty of products and services in America. And if America, the world’s largest economy, were to institute this reform, there would be a powerful incentive for other countries – including Britain – to implement a similar reform.

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Bubbles everywhere.

Is America in a Bubble & Will America Ever Return to “Normal” (CH)

Analysts and talking heads have an awful lot of opinions. Are we in a bubble or aren’t we? Rather than offer another opinion, I’ll offer the relationship of US economic activity (GDP) against the Wilshire 5000 (representing US equities) and the Federal Reserves gauge of American wealth, Z1 Household Net Worth series. These are the preferred establishment gauges, so take a look and then you decide. GDP is a monetary measure of the market value of all final goods and services produced annually in the US. The chart below shows the annual real GDP growth decelerating since 1950.

GDP vs. US Household Net Worth Given the sharp rise in asset values, I thought it worthwhile to view the total increase, as shown by the Fed’s US Household Net Worth data, versus the growth in GDP. The chart below shows US household net worth (all inclusive with real estate, equities, and all asset classes) is fast approaching $92 trillion against US GDP of $18.6 trillion. A simple division of GDP as a % of HHNW (maroon line in the chart below) shows household net worth (asset values) is growing significantly faster than economic activity supporting those valuations.

[..] from 1950–>2000, the average GDP to HHNW ratio was somewhat consistent around 28%…if the HHNW and GDP ratio are to come back to their 50 year norm (before they were warped by long periods of near Zero Interest Rate Policy and actual ZIRP)…there are two basic options: Either, GDP rapidly rises $7 trillion (a 38% increase)… Or, the other option is a 28% decline in HHNW, or a contraction of $25 trillion. A $25 trillion decline in HHNW would equate to an average $200,000 decline in net worth for every household in America.

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Provocative headline for a useful reminder.

Trump Is No Fascist. He Is A Champion For The Forgotten Millions (G.)

For many Americans, Hillary Clinton personified the corruption and self-dealing of the elites. But Trump’s election wasn’t just a rejection of Clinton, it was a rejection of politics as usual. If the media and political establishment see Trump’s first couple of weeks in office as a whirlwind of chaos and incompetence, his supporters see an outsider taking on a sclerotic system that needs to be dismantled. That’s precisely what many Americans thought they were doing eight years ago, when they put a freshman senator from Illinois in the White House. Obama promised a new way of governing – he would be a “post-partisan” president, he would “fundamentally transform” the country, he would look out for the middle class. In the throes of the great recession, that resonated.

Something was clearly wrong with our political system and the American people wanted someone to fix it. After all, the Tea Party didn’t begin as a reaction against Obama’s presidency but that of George W Bush. As far as most Americans were concerned, the financial crisis was brought on by the excesses of Wall Street bankers and the incompetency of our political leaders. Before the Tea Party coalesced into a political movement, the protesters weren’t just traditional conservatives who cared about limited government and the constitution. They were, for the most part, ordinary Americans who felt the system was rigged against them and they wanted change.

But change didn’t come. What they got was more of the same. Obama offered a series of massive government programmes, from an $830bn financial stimulus, to the Affordable Care Act, to Dodd-Frank, none of which did much to assuage the economic anxieties of the middle class. Americans watched as the federal government bailed out the banks, then the auto industry and then passed healthcare reform that transferred billions of taxpayer dollars to major health insurance companies. Meanwhile, premiums went up, economic recovery remained sluggish and millions dropped out of the workforce and turned to food stamps and welfare programmes just to get by. Americans asked themselves: “Where’s my bailout?”

At the same time, they saw the world becoming more unstable. Part of Obama’s appeal was that he promised to end the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, restore America’s standing in the international community and pursue multilateral agreements that would bring stability. Instead, Americans watched Isis step into the vacuum created by the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. They watched the Syrian civil war trigger a migrant crisis in Europe that many Americans now view as a cautionary tale. At home, Isis-inspired terrorist attacks took their toll, as they did in Europe. And all the while Obama’s White House insisted that everything was going well.

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A basic income where dozens of millions have no access to bank accounts. Curious.

India Weighs Up The Return On Basic Income For The Poorest (G.)

[..] the transformative potential championed by UBI advocates has particular appeal in a country such as India, where one in five people lives below the $1.90 (£1.51) poverty line, 1 million join the workforce each month, and a clunky, corrupt bureaucracy oversees nearly 1,000 separate welfare schemes. There have already been Indian trials. Three years ago, in nine villages in Madhya Pradesh state, 6,000 people were each given a monthly payment of up to 300 rupees an adult, and half that much for every child, over a period of 18 months. Every six months, the impact of the payments was assessed against 12 villages that received no income, just the usual government welfare. “What we saw were huge improvements in nutrition, health, schooling and sanitation,” said Guy Standing, a British economist who helped run the trials.

Results published afterwards showed the consumption of lentils, chickpeas and other pulses increased tenfold. Villagers ate six times more meat and the uptake of fresh vegetables grew 888%. That meant residents of the village were healthier, worked harder and attended school more often. Equity between more socially dominant members of the community – traditionally the gatekeepers to resources – and the less powerful also improved, Standing said. “Women benefited more than men, the disabled benefited more, and scheduled [lowest] castes benefited more than others.” India’s government is clearly enamoured by the idea. Subramanian suggested even Gandhi would approve. He praised the basic income’s potential to reduce poverty “in one fell swoop”, to relieve the grinding stress of hunger, and empower Indians to make their own life choices.

Criticisms – such as the idea people would fritter the money on alcohol or drugs, or drop out of the workforce – he dismissed based on past research. On paper, the sums also add up. Subramanian calculates that the annual income required to enable all but the very poorest Indians to escape penury is about 7,620 rupees (£90) a year. If that sum were given to 75% of India’s billion-plus population, it would cost about 5% of GDP. India’s vast welfare schemes and subsidies for food, petrol and fertilisers are notoriously wasteful and poorly targeted. Cutting them entirely would save about 2% of GDP. Reducing “middle class” subsidies on things such as railway tickets and gold would save another 1%. The rest of the savings might be found in scrapping other government schemes, which altogether cost 3.7% of GDP.

It would be even cheaper if the basic income were targeted at women, for example, or if the wealthy – those who own cars or air conditioners – were excluded, or asked to opt out. Giving Indian women a minimal basic income would cost just over 1% of GDP, but have “large multiplier effects” on the entire society, Subramanian said.

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Good topic to discuss. Get big banks out of your lives. It’s a Wonderful Life.

Scotland Needs Publicly Funded Bank, Says Thinktank (G.)

The Scottish government is under growing pressure to replace its private finance programme with a publicly funded bank to build new schools, roads and hospitals. The Common Weal, a pro-independence thinktank, said it should also replace the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), the government agency that champions private financing projects such as a new Aberdeen bypass contract, which is worth £1.5bn to the private consortium building it. Common Weal said there was an urgent requirement to set up a Scottish national investment bank that would use £1.35bn in public funding for construction projects and another £2bn from investors to replace more expensive private financing.

The SFT would be replaced by a new publicly owned investment company and the two bodies would fund national infrastructure projects, new low-carbon energy schemes and local council programmes, as well as offering low-cost loans to small businesses, it said. The thinktank’s campaign to push for the changes has the backing of the Unison and Unite unions, the thinktank New Economics Foundation and the London-based campaign Debt Resistance UK. It has won support from Labour MSPs as well as Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader told an audience in Glasgow last month that his party would set up a national investment bank at UK level and regional banks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They would focus on “fast tracking infrastructure spending to building essential transport and digital links to realise our potential”, he said.

Common Weal’s call for a Scottish national investment bank is to be debated at the SNP’s spring conference in March, an indication of growing unease within the the party about the private finance model being used by Nicola Sturgeon’s government. The motion from an SNP branch in Angus near Dundee says leaving economic growth and environmental protection “solely in the hands of our private banking and financial sector will be detrimental to present and future living standards of our citizens”.

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“The euro’s recent weakness has nothing to do with a deliberate attempt by the Germans to reduce its value..” Wrong. All Germany has to do to keep the euro low is to strangle southern Europe.

Greek Debt Crisis: An Existentialist Drama With No Good End In Sight (G.)

Put three people in a room who can’t get on with each other. Condemn them to stay there for all eternity while they torture each other. Sit and watch as the gruesome story plays out. And what do you have? One answer is the 1944 existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre, Huis Clos. Another is the story of the neverending Greek debt crisis in which the three main characters are Alexis Tsipras, Wolfgang Schäuble and Christine Lagarde. [..] Tsipras plays one of the three lead parts in the play. Elected as a leftwing firebrand two years ago, Tsipras has had a rapid fall from grace. He caved in when pressure was put on him by the Europeans in the summer of 2015 and having run for office on an anti-austerity programme eventually agreed to even more draconian bailout terms than the previous centrist governments.

For an increasing number of Greeks, Tsipras is no longer an iconoclast; he is just another man in a suit. With public support waning, Tsipras is once again hanging tough. He aroused the ire of the Europeans by giving a Christmas bonus to pensioners and free school meals to poverty-stricken families. Europe responded by suspending the limited debt relief it has previously granted. Tsipras says Greece has already done enough and will suffer no more. Europe is played by Schäuble, the German finance minister. He too is facing political pressures. The German public thinks enough aid has already been given to Greece, a country it considers is not doing enough to help itself. Opposition to further debt relief is strong and a general election is looming. The third cast member is Lagarde, a former French finance minister and now managing director of the IMF. Under its own rules, the IMF is forbidden from putting money into a bailout if it thinks debt is unsustainable.

There have been reports coming out of Washington that the Fund believes Greece’s debt will rise to 275% of national income by 2060, which would undoubtedly put it into the “unsustainable” category. The latest act in this play takes place in Washington this week when the IMF’s governing executive board discusses Greece. One factor complicating the issue is that time is running out to get matters sorted before the first in a series of European elections kicks off in in the Netherlands in March. A second is that the drama has a new character in the form of Donald Trump. There is little evidence that the US president gives a fig about whether Greece gets debt relief but he may have more than a walk-on role because the US is the biggest shareholder at the Fund and has the power to veto any decision it doesn’t like.

Trump has expressed strong – and not exactly positive – views about the European Union in general and Germany in particular. Causing consternation in Brussels, the new American president has said the EU has become a vehicle for German interests. His trade adviser Peter Navarro has accused Germany of being a currency manipulator, using a ”grossly undervalued” euro to run up a massive current account surplus. Navarro’s specific criticism about currency manipulation is wide of the mark. Germany is part of the eurozone and doesn’t always agree with the monetary policy decisions taken by the ECB. The euro’s recent weakness has nothing to do with a deliberate attempt by the Germans to reduce its value and everything to do with the fact that Europe has been loosening monetary policy at a time when the US has started to raise interest rates.

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Europe has long lost whatever -humanitarian- values it had.

Testing Europe’s Values (NYT)

When the European Union and Turkey reached a deal last year to lessen the flow of refugees into Greece, the priority was on defending borders, not the humanitarian crisis. Sadly, that remains Europe’s priority as it turns its attention to halting the flow of people from Libya to Italy. More than 180,000 people crossed the Mediterranean to arrive in Italy last year, and more than 5,000 died on the journey. The European Council met in Malta on Friday with the urgent task of preventing large numbers of people from setting out from Libya for Italy as soon as the weather improves this spring. The problem is twofold: Thousands risk drowning in rickety smugglers’ boats and another wave of migrants risks putting even more pressure on Italy and other European Union members where anti-immigrant populism is on the rise.

While the European Union is assisting in rescuing migrants at sea and in training the Libyan Coast Guard, its priority remains to “ensure effective control of our external border and stem illegal flows into the E.U.” That effectively means leaving people stranded in Libya, where migrants are subject to rape, beatings and torture in overcrowded camps. Europe hopes to enlist the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations’ refugee agency to ensure that migrants in Libya are detained in humane conditions. But these organizations in a joint statement warned that, given the situation in Libya, “it is not appropriate to consider Libya a safe third country, nor to establish extraterritorial processing of asylum seekers in North Africa.” Europe is also investing in improving conditions in Africa that compel people to flee, but that is a long-term solution that does little to address the immediate crisis.

On Wednesday, Libya’s United Nations-backed prime minister, Fayez Serraj, offered to allow NATO or European Union ships to pursue smugglers in Libyan waters. Putting smugglers out of business is important. But if NATO or the European Union sends migrants back to Libya, it “would violate the law, not to mention basic decency, and betray the values on which the E.U. and its member states were built,” said Judith Sunderland, the associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Ahead of the Malta meeting, the European Council president, Donald Tusk, and Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, warned that, with populism on the rise, the “E.U.’s key values are in danger, if we don’t act now.” But counting on Libya to keep migrants from leaving for Europe also puts those values in danger. The obvious immediate answer to the plight of African migrants is to open more legal channels for people to reach Europe, and to ensure that every member country assumes its fair share of new arrivals so that Italy is not overwhelmed.

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Completely lost.

EU Leaders Back Libyans To Curb New Migrant Wave (R.)

European Union leaders placed a bet on Libya’s fragile government to help them prevent a new wave of African migrants this spring, offering Tripoli more money and other assistance to beef up its frontier controls. Meeting in Malta – in the sea lane to Italy where more than 4,500 people drowned last year – the leaders addressed legal and moral concerns about having Libyan coastguards force people ashore by pledging to improve conditions in migrant camps there. “If the situation stays as is now, in a few weeks we will have a humanitarian crisis and people will start pointing fingers, saying Europe has done nothing,” said Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, which currently holds the presidency of the bloc. “With this agreement… there is one first decent shot in trying to get a proper management of migration flows across the central Mediterranean.”

Aid groups, however, accused the EU, of abandoning humanitarian values and misrepresenting conditions in Libya, where the U.N.-backed government of Fayez al-Seraj has only a shaky and partial hold on the sprawling desert nation. Medecins Sans Frontieres, which works on the ground, said the summit proved EU leaders were “delusional” about Libya. “Today was not about saving lives; it’s clear that the EU is ready to sacrifice thousands of vulnerable men, women and children in order to stop them reaching European shores.” The chaos in Libya has thwarted any hope of a quick fix in the way that a controversial EU deal with Turkey a year ago led to a virtual halt to a migrant route to Germany via Greece along which more than a million asylum-seekers traveled in 2015.

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How much further must this sink before we call it enough?

Hunger Strikers At Greek Refugee Camp Keep Minister, Police Out (K.)

Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas on Monday visited the state-run reception facility for migrants at Elliniko, south of Athens, amid reports that some of the residents have started a hunger strike against substandard conditions but was prevented from entering the site by protests. Dozens of protesting migrants formed a human chain at the entrance to the site, keeping out police and the minister, as child refugees sat on top of a barbed wire fence, shouting at the officers. The minister, who initially arrived at the site alone, was subsequently allowed to enter by migrants keen to discuss their demands. Migrants launched their hunger strike on Monday morning, calling for improved conditions at the site which authorities have pledged to clear soon to allow for a planned real estate project.

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Jan 212017
 
 January 21, 2017  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Bettmann/Getty Minimum Wage 1963


Trump’s Declaration of War (Paul Craig Roberts)
The Audacity of Trump (WSJ)
Trump Trade Strategy Starts With Quitting TPP – White House (R.)
Trump, in Oval Office, Signs First Order on Obamacare (R.)
Trump Reverses Obama’s Mortgage Fee Cuts on First Day (BBG)
Far-Right Leaders Meet To Discuss ‘Free Europe’ Vision (R.)
As Housing Bubble Pops, Chinese Real Estate Firms Halt Monthly Pricing Data (ZH)
The Curse of Econ 101 (Atlantic)
Economics, Society, And The Environment (EI)
Turkish Parliament Approves Constitutional Reform, Expanded Powers For Erdogan
With New Constitution, Erdogan Eyes For One-Man Rule (GP)
Greek Have Lost Wealth Worth One Year’s GDP Since 2009 (Kath.)

 

 

Who are Trump’s real enemies? There’s no easy answer. PCR concludes: “President Trump has declared a war far more dangerous to himself than if he had declared war against Russia or China.”

Trump’s Declaration of War (Paul Craig Roberts)

President Trump’s brief inaugural speech was a declaration of war against the entirety of the American Ruling Establishment. All of it. Trump made it abundantly clear that Americans’ enemies are right here at home: globalists, neoliberal economists, neoconservatives and other unilateralists accustomed to imposing the US on the world and involving us in endless and expensive wars, politicians who serve the Ruling Establishment rather than the American people, indeed, the entire canopy of private interests that have run America into the ground while getting rich in the process. If truth can be said, President Trump has declared a war far more dangerous to himself than if he had declared war against Russia or China.

The interest groups designated by Trump as The Enemy are well entrenched and accustomed to being in charge. Their powerful networks are still in place. Although there are Republican majorities in the House and Senate, most of those in Congress are answerable to the ruling interest groups that provide their campaign funds and not to the American people or to the President. The military/security complex, offshoring corporations, Wall Street and the banks are not going to roll over for Trump. And neither is the presstitute media, which is owned by the interest groups whose power Trump challenges. Trump made it clear that he stands for every American, black, brown, and white. Little doubt his declaration of inclusiveness will be ignored by the haters on the left who will continue to call him a racist just as the $50 per hour paid protesters are doing as I write.

Indeed, black leadership, for example, is enculturated into the victimization role from which it would be hard for them to escape. How do you pull together people who all their lives have been taught that whites are racists and that they are the victims of racists? Can it be done? I was just on a program briefly with Press TV in which we were supposed to provide analysis of Trump’s inaugural speech. The other commentator was a black American in Washington, DC. Trump’s inclusiveness speech made no impression on him, and the show host was only interested in showing the hired protesters as a way of discrediting America. So many people have an economic interest in speaking in behalf of victims that inclusiveness puts them out of jobs and causes.

So along with the globalists, the CIA, the offshoring corporations, the armaments industries, the NATO establishment in Europe, and foreign politicians accustomed to being well paid for supporting Washington’s interventionist foreign policy, Trump will have arrayed against him the leaders of the victimized peoples, the blacks, the hispanics, the feminists, the illegals, the homosexuals and transgendered. This long list, of course, includes the white liberals as well, as they are convinced that flyover America is the habitat of white racists, misogynists, homophobes, and gun nuts. As far as they are concerned, this 84% of geographical US should be quarantined or interred.

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WSJ licking up to power?

The Audacity of Trump (WSJ)

Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office on Friday facing unprecedented opposition but also an extraordinary opportunity. He confronts the paradox of a country skeptical that he has the personal traits for the Presidency but still hopeful he can fulfill his promise to shake up a government that is increasingly powerful even as it fails to work. In this respect he is the opposite of President Obama, whom Americans admire personally but see as a failure in delivering on his promises. Mr. Trump begins his Presidency without a reservoir of personal goodwill, so more than most Commanders in Chief he will have to win over Americans with results. He will have to do this, moreover, against a political opposition that is blunt and relentless in wanting him to fail. Inaugurations are typically moments of political unity and appeals to larger national purpose, but Mr. Trump will get no honeymoon.

Democratic leaders are calling his election illegitimate, and most of the media wants Mr. Trump to implode—for reasons of partisanship, ideology or simply to vindicate their view during the campaign that he couldn’t and shouldn’t win. No President since Nixon will face a more hostile resistance in the press and permanent bureaucracy. Yet rather than rage against this hostility, Mr. Trump should view it as an opportunity. So many elites expect him to fail that even small early successes will confound them. So many on the left are predicting the rise of fascism that he can make them look foolish by working well with Congress. So many in the media will portray him as the leader of a gang of billionaires that he can turn the tables with an up-from-poverty and education choice campaign.

Mr. Trump owes his narrow election victory to center-right and independent voters who decided he was a risk worth taking. Notably, they seem to be reserving judgment. In the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Mr. Trump’s personal popularity rating is 10 points underwater, 38% positive, 48% negative—the lowest of any modern President at inauguration. But as notably, the public is better disposed to Mr. Trump’s agenda than to his character and temperament. Tax reform, a faster campaign against Islamic State, improving roads and bridges, and fixing health care enjoy widespread support. If voters are ambivalent about Mr. Trump personally, he has a policy opening to earn their support.

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Hard not to be happy about this.

Trump Trade Strategy Starts With Quitting TPP – White House (R.)

The new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump said on Friday its trade strategy to protect American jobs would start with withdrawal from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. A White House statement issued soon after Trump’s inauguration said the United States would also “crack down on those nations that violate trade agreements and harm American workers in the process.” The statement said Trump was committed to renegotiating another trade deal, NAFTA, which was signed in 1994 by the United States, Canada and Mexico. “For too long, Americans have been forced to accept trade deals that put the interests of insiders and the Washington elite over the hard-working men and women of this country,” it said.

“As a result, blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close and good-paying jobs move overseas, while Americans face a mounting trade deficit and a devastated manufacturing base.” The statement said “tough and fair agreements” on trade could be used to grow the U.S. economy and return millions of jobs to America. “This strategy starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American workers.” If NAFTA partners refused to give American workers a fair deal in a renegotiated agreement, “the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA,” the statement added.

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Better get a replacement fast. You don’t want stories of people dying due to lack of access to health care, in your first weeks or months.

Trump, in Oval Office, Signs First Order on Obamacare (R.)

President Donald Trump directed government agencies on Friday to freeze regulations and take steps to weaken Obamacare, using his first hours in the White House to make good on a campaign promise to start dismantling his predecessor’s healthcare law. Heading into the Oval Office shortly after the conclusion of his inaugural parade, Trump signed an order on the Affordable Care Act that urged government departments to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of provisions that imposed fiscal burdens on states, companies or individuals. It also called for efforts to give states greater flexibility in implementing healthcare programs while developing “a free and open market in interstate commerce for the offering of healthcare services and health insurance.”

Health experts had speculated that Trump could expand exemptions from the so-called individual mandate, which requires Americans to carry insurance or face a penalty, or the requirement that employers offer coverage. Experts also believe the administration could try to reduce the “essential benefits,” such as maternity care and mental health services, that insurance plans must cover. The White House did not provide further details about the executive order. Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer said the White House also directed an immediate regulatory freeze for all government agencies in a memo from Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus. He did not offer details. Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, one of former President Barack Obama’s signature laws, was a central pledge for Trump during the presidential election campaign.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress have not yet laid out a plan to recast the insurance program. In a hastily arranged ceremony, surrounded by some of his aides, Trump sat behind the presidential Resolute Desk and signed the order. He also signed commissions for his newly confirmed defense secretary, James Mattis, and his homeland security secretary, John Kelly. Trump spoke briefly about his day with reporters. “It was busy, but good. It was a beautiful day,” he said. Vice President Mike Pence then swore in Mattis and Kelly in a separate ceremony. There were other signs of change in the Oval Office, which Obama vacated on Friday morning. Golden drapes hung where crimson ones had earlier in the day and new furniture dotted the room.

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The entire US housing system is such a mess it’s hard to know where to begin. Whatever happens, it will be painful.

Trump Reverses Obama’s Mortgage Fee Cuts on First Day (BBG)

Soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, his administration undid one of Barack Obama’s last-minute economic-policy actions: a mortgage-fee cut under a government program that’s popular with first-time home buyers and low-income borrowers. The new administration on Friday said it’s canceling a reduction in the Federal Housing Administration’s annual fee for most borrowers. The cut would have reduced the annual premium for someone borrowing $200,000 by $500 in the first year. The reversal comes after Trump’s team criticized the Obama administration for adopting new policies as it prepared to leave office. In the waning days of the administration, the White House announced new Russia sanctions, a ban on drilling in parts of the Arctic and many other regulations.

Last week, Obama’s Housing and Urban Development secretary, Julian Castro, said the FHA would cut its fees. The administration didn’t consult Trump’s team before the announcement. Republicans have argued in the past that reductions put taxpayers at risk by lowering the funds the FHA has to deal with mortgage defaults. [..] A letter Friday from HUD to lenders and others in the real-estate industry said, “more analysis and research are deemed necessary to assess future adjustments while also considering potential market conditions in an ever-changing global economy that could impact our efforts.” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York took to the chamber’s floor to denounce the reversal. “It took only an hour after his positive words on the inaugural platform for his actions to ring hollow,” Schumer said. “One hour after talking about helping working people and ending the cabal in Washington that hurts people, he signs a regulation that makes it more expensive for new homeowners to buy mortgages.”

Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies for the libertarian Cato Institute, said it was appropriate for the administration to examine last-minute decisions by its predecessor, “especially when those decisions appear to be purely motivated by politics.” Ben Carson, Trump’s nominee to lead HUD, FHA’s parent agency, said at his confirmation hearing last week that he was disappointed the cut was announced in Obama’s final days in office. The FHA sells insurance to protect against defaults and doesn’t issue mortgages. It is a popular program among first-time home buyers because it allows borrowers to make a down payment of as low as 3.5% with a credit score of 580, on a scale of 300 to 850. The Obama administration announced last week it would cut the insurance premium by a quarter of a %age point to 0.60%, effective on Jan. 27.

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The products of a failed consensus system. Or in other words: “While you were sleeping”. Obama’s last phone call from the White House was to Merkel, not a coincidence.

Far-Right Leaders Meet To Discuss ‘Free Europe’ Vision (R.)

Far-right populist leaders from Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands meet in the German city of Koblenz on Saturday to present their vision for “a free Europe” that would dismantle the European Union. Marine Le Pen, who is expected to make it into a May 7 second-round run-off for the French presidency, is due to speak at the meeting, along with Frauke Petry of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD). They will be joined by Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party (PVV) who was last month convicted of discrimination against Moroccans, and Matteo Salvini of the Northern League who wants to take Italy out of the euro. Emboldened by Britons’ vote last year to leave the European Union, the leaders are meeting under the slogan “Freedom for Europe” and aim to strengthen ties between their like-minded parties, whose nationalist tendencies have hampered close collaboration in the past.

“This gives us an opportunity to see how we stand with other European parties,” a spokeswoman for Salvini said. Le Pen told France’s Radio Classique that the meeting was proof that her party was not isolated. “It is therefore the revolution of the people that we are taking part in. It is obviously very important to show that the cooperative Europe we want to achieve (is reflected) in our cooperation,” she said. Several leading German media have been barred from the meeting, which is being organized by the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), the smallest group in the European Parliament, in a year when the parties are hoping for electoral breakthroughs. Populist anti-immigration parties are on the rise across Europe as high unemployment and austerity, the arrival of record numbers of refugees and militant attacks in France, Belgium and Germany feed voter disillusionment with traditional parties.

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“Judged by current conditions, we won’t publish it in the future..”

As Housing Bubble Pops, Chinese Real Estate Firms Halt Monthly Pricing Data (ZH)

That didn’t take long. Earlier this week we reported that after 19 straight months of continued acceleration in home prices, China’s latest housing bubble may have finally burst (again) after December prices in the 70 cities tracked by the NBS, rose by 12.7%, below the 12.9% annual growth rate in the previous month – the first annual decline in nearly 2 years. Fast forward to Friday, when at least two major Chinese private providers of home price data stopped publishing the figures, just as the housing market is stating to cool off at a dramatic pace across all Tier cities. According to Reuters, the China Index Academy, a unit of U.S.-listed Fang Holdings, has stopped distributing monthly housing price index data for 100 cities that it usually issued at the start of the month. The academy said it had suspended distribution indefinitely, without giving a reason for the suspension.

“I don’t know who exactly is making the order, and it’s not mandatory,” said a source with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified as the topic is a sensitive one. Home price data from private providers tends to show sharper increases than official data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which publishes monthly and annual %age changes in 70 major cities. It also overextends on the downside, which according to official data, has now begun, and may explain the self-imposed censorship. Since last summer, in an attempt to cool the overheating housing market, China’s government had levied curbs on buying and ownership to rein in soaring prices and limit asset bubble risks. E-house China, another influential private real estate consultancy also indefinitely suspended its monthly housing price index for 288 cities.

“Judged by current conditions, we won’t publish it in the future,” said Cherilyn Tsui, a public relations officer at CRIC, the consultancy’s real estate research branch. “We stopped distributing prices data a few months ago. At first it was just no external distribution, but now even internally we don’t distribute any more,” she told Reuters. While Tsui said she did not know the reason for the halt, she added that data on sales volumes and inventories would still be published. “Housing prices are an extremely sensitive matter right now,” a second source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Perhaps the reason is that having created a massive bubble to the upside, Beijing is hoping to delay the descent in prices in order to attain a smooth landing at a time when China is already faced with record capital outflows, a plunging currency and all time high levels of debt.

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Treating people like tradable resources is always a bad idea.

The Curse of Econ 101 (Atlantic)

In a rich, post-industrial society, where most people walk around with supercomputers in their pockets and a person can have virtually anything delivered to his or her doorstep overnight, it seems wrong that people who work should have to live in poverty. Yet in America, there are more than ten million members of the working poor: people in the workforce whose household income is below the poverty line. Looking around, it isn’t hard to understand why. The two most common occupations in the United States are retail salesperson and cashier. Eight million people have one of those two jobs, which typically pay about $9–$10 per hour. It’s hard to make ends meet on such meager wages. A few years ago, McDonald’s was embarrassed by the revelation that its internal help line was recommending that even a full-time restaurant employee apply for various forms of public assistance.

Poverty in the midst of plenty exists because many working people simply don’t make very much money. This is possible because the minimum wage that businesses must pay is low: only $7.25 per hour in the United States in 2016 (although it is higher in some states and cities). At that rate, a person working full-time for a whole year, with no vacations or holidays, earns about $15,000—which is below the poverty line for a family of two, let alone a family of four. A minimum-wage employee is poor enough to qualify for food stamps and, in most states, Medicaid. Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum is roughly the same as in the 1960s and 1970s, despite significant increases in average living standards over that period. The United States currently has the lowest minimum wage, as a proportion of its average wage, of any advanced economy, contributing to today’s soaring levels of inequality. At first glance, it seems that raising the minimum wage would be a good way to combat poverty.

The argument against increasing the minimum wage often relies on what I call “economism”—the misleading application of basic lessons from Economics 101 to real-world problems, creating the illusion of consensus and reducing a complex topic to a simple, open-and-shut case. According to economism, a pair of supply and demand curves proves that a minimum wage increases unemployment and hurts exactly the low-wage workers it is supposed to help. The argument goes like this: Low-skilled labor is bought and sold in a market, just like any good or service, and its price should be set by supply and demand. A minimum wage, however, upsets this happy equilibrium because it sets a price floor in the market for labor. If it is below the natural wage rate, then nothing changes. But if the minimum (say, $7.25 an hour) is above the natural wage (say, $6 per hour), it distorts the market. More people want jobs at $7.25 than at $6, but companies want to hire fewer employees. The result: more unemployment.

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I could write a lot about this. For now let’s just say that the lack of virtually any discussion of energy shows just how poor a field economics is. One other thing: one must at least bring to the table that the 2nd law of thermodynamics contradicts the very term ‘sustainable’.

Economics, Society, And The Environment (EI)

A common view of some is that the relationship between economics and the environment is that environmental considerations are “externalities” for economic systems. In other words, effects produced by economic activity in the environment result from a limited overlap between the economic “system” and the environment, such as the diagram shown (from Giddings, Hopewood and O’Brien): The diagram above is adopted by some to describe the fields of enivonmental economics and environmental science. EnviromentalScience.org describes their discipline: “Environmental economics is an area of economics dealing with the relationship between the economy and the environment. Environmental economists study the economics of natural resources from both sides – their extraction and use, and the waste products returned to the environment. They also study how economic incentives hurt or help the environment, and how they can be used to create sustainable policies and environmental solutions.”

This seems a resonable description. But the accompanying diagram indicates a lack of understanding of the scope of the field. Giddings, Hopewood and O’Brien point out the logical shortcomings of the traditional concept above, and suggest a more correct way of conceptualizing the relationships: “A more accurate presentation of the relationship between society, economy and environment than the usual three rings is of the economy nested within society, which in turn is nested within the environment (Figure 2). Placing the economy in the centre does not mean that it should be seen as the hub around which the other sectors and activities revolve. Rather it is a subset of the others and is dependent upon them. Human society depends on environment although in contrast the environment would continue without society (Lovelock, 1988). The economy depends on society and the environment although society for many people did and still does (although under siege) exist without the economy.”

The importance of recognizing that all of society is a subset of functions within the environment is that society cannot violate the proven physical laws of the physical world (actually universe, but we will return to that thought later). Likewise, the economy exists totally within society so economics must also obey the same physical laws. Steve Keen has argued that the forgotten parameter in economics is energy. Whereas economists develop models and theories based on labor and capital as the components of production, energy should also be explicitly defined as separate and co-variant with labor and capital. Keen argues that failure to do so has led economists to propose models and theories which violate the fundamental laws of our environment, the Laws of Thermodynamics.

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This will not end well.

Turkish Parliament Approves Constitutional Reform, Expanded Powers For Erdogan

In a night-long session, lawmakers voted in favor of a set of amendments presented by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which was founded by current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2003. The reform bill is designed to widen Erdogan’s powers, who presently only occupies a largely ceremonial role. The bill cleared the minimum parliamentary threshold necessary to put the measures to a national referendum for final approval, which could be held as early as in the spring. The vote took place with 488 lawmakers out of the 550-seat assembly in attendance. A total of 339 parliamentarians voted in favor of the motion and 142 against it, while five cast empty ballots and two of the votes were ruled out as invalid.

The measure required at least 330 votes to be approved and be put forward to a plebiscite. Some of the lawmakers not attending the vote were absent on account of remaining in detention; as part of a wide-ranging purge on dissidents Turkey has detained opposition HDP politicians, whom it accuses of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim celebrated the result saying “we are now entrusting this to the people, its actual owners. Now it’s the people’s word. It is the people’s decision.” Critics, however, say the amendments will weaken checks and balances in Turkey’s democracy, leading to too much power being consolidated in the office of the president.

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More detail; looks Google translated, but may just be poorly written.

With New Constitution, Erdogan Eyes For One-Man Rule (GP)

The Turkish Republic is on the throes of a radical transformation, even regime change, as Parliament completed 2nd round of voting 18-article constitutional reform bill, which gives expanded powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a way that removes last vestiges of separation of powers. While the world watch inauguration ceremony of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Turkish Parliament paved way for a referendum to significantly expand powers of Mr. Erdogan, the president’s long-held political ambition. The breathtaking speed of the first round vote was a clear-cut indication of a strong will on behalf of government and its ardent backer, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to quickly push through the controversial package.

The vote reflected the emergence of a new alignment in the Turkish political landscape, formation of an Islamist-nationalist front that harbor similar views on a number of political issues concerning the fate of the country. While the first round of voting was a scene of brawls among men, the 2nd round was women’s turn. The fighting among differing factions in Parliament reflected the deep divide the voting created in the society, with critics blasting the government for transforming the country’s regime from a parliamentary democracy into a the rule of a strongman. Aylin Nazliaka, an independent lawmaker, handcuffed herself to the rostrum to protest the voting, prompting a scuffle that hospitalized several female lawmakers. What constitutional bill brings to Turkey is at the core of ensuing debates amid ongoing emergency rule that rendered free discussion of the proposed changes in public sphere near impossible.

While dozens of national TV channels live aired Mr. Erdogan’s address to village administrators in the presidential palace a few days ago, almost no TV station broadcasted the parliamentary session where lawmakers squabbling over momentous decisions that have the power of shattering roots of the republic’s established system. A CHP lawmaker set his own “studio” in Parliament to bypass the censorship. For supporters of the bill, the shift to executive presidency long sought by President Erdogan will provide a bulwark against return to fragile coalition governments of the past. But for the critics of the proposal, it will cement Erdogan’s power and turn Turkey into a dictatorship with scrapping checks and balances, regarded as central pillars of any democratic system. Main opposition CHP says the new scheme will create one-man dictatorship.

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Not sure that reporting “data show that the net wealth per adult Greek inhabitant amounted to €114,000 in 2009” helps. Let alone that it’s correct.

Greek Have Lost Wealth Worth One Year’s GDP Since 2009 (Kath.)

The wealth of Greeks shrank by €167 billion during the years of the financial crisis – i.e. almost one year’s GDP – according to a survey by Credit Suisse included in the weekly bulletin of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV). The Swiss bank estimates the net wealth of Greeks – that is with their loans deducted – at €856 billion, against €1,023 billion in 2009, just before the country entered the bailout process.The data show that the net wealth per adult Greek inhabitant amounted to €114,000 in 2009, while in the rest of Europe it came to €93,000 per adult inhabitant. According to SEV, what puts Greece in a different category to the rest of Europe is the excessive borrowing.

SEV stresses that what is not obvious in the data on the fortune of Greek people and is not sufficiently presented is the huge deficits of the local social security system that will continue to absorb considerable resources in the future, putting a lid on the country’s growth unless tackled sufficiently. In practice, the older generations have not just borrowed from the savings of fellow Europeans, but also from the future savings of their children.

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Nov 302016
 
 November 30, 2016  Posted by at 11:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Wyland Stanley Bulletin press car: Mitchell auto at Yosemite National Park 1920


OK, I get it: Companies Clamor for Cheap Labor, Fed Delivers (WS)
Trump Notches a Win as Carrier Agrees to Keep 1,000 Jobs in U.S.
Asia Is About to Face a Significant Dollar Stress Test (BBG)
Property Bubble ‘Most Important Macro Issue In China’ – Deutsche (BI)
China’s Foreign Investment ‘Shopping Spree’ Over?! (SCMP)
RBS Fails Bank Of England Stress Test (Ind.)
UK Shoppers ‘Resolutely Gloomy’ About The Future Of The Economy (Ind.)
The ‘Washington Post’ ‘Blacklist’ Story Is Shameful and Disgusting (Taibbi)
US Intelligence Experts Urge Obama To End Snowden’s ‘Untenable Exile’ (G.)
The End Of Empires: Rome Vs. America (SHTFP)
The Rediscovery of Men (Jim Kunstler)
Major Global Firms Buy Indonesia Palm Oil Produced By Child Labor (R.)
North Dakota Moves To Block Supplies From Reaching Pipeline Protesters (R.)
The Areas America Could Abandon First (BBG)
Turkey Has Secret Plan To Send 3,000 Refugees To Greece Every Day (Ind.)

 

 

Makes it easier to bring jobs back home, too.

OK, I get it: Companies Clamor for Cheap Labor, Fed Delivers (WS)

Despite all the frothy excitement about the stock market’s new highs, and the drooling today over the new highs reached by Housing Bubble 2, exceeding the prior crazy highs of Housing Bubble 1 even according to the Case-Shiller Index, and despite eight years of super-low interest rates, and a million other things that are hyped constantly, median household incomes, the crux of the real economy, is still a dreary affair. Sentier Research released its median household income measure for October today. Adjusted for inflation, it edged up 0.6% from a year ago to $57,929. But it’s down 1.3% from January 2008, and it’s down 1.5% from its peak in 2002. It has fallen 0.5% since January. That’s not a propitious trend. The report put it this way: “Median annual household income in 2016 has not been able to maintain the momentum that it achieved during 2015.” This chart by Doug Short shows the stagnating inflation-adjusted debacle (blue line) and the nominal income (red line):

[..] Even minuscule but consistent understatement of CPI in relationship to actual price changes as experienced by the median household wreaks havoc on their inflation-adjusted income. Since 2000, official inflation has amounted to 42%. If CPI is understated by just a fraction every year, multiplied by 16 years, it would knock several%age points off real median household income. This translates into reduced purchasing power, which is exactly what many people have been experiencing. This whole affair – the devious impact of inflation on household income – becomes even clearer in this chart by Doug Short at Advisor Perspectives. It shows the% change over time, starting in 2000: The beautifully soaring illusion of nominal income (red line), and the dreary reality of wage stagnation or worse, after inflation (blue line):

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Not even a rounding error, but it gets more headlines than jobs are saved.

Trump Notches a Win as Carrier Agrees to Keep 1,000 Jobs in U.S.

Carrier agreed to keep about 1,000 jobs at an Indiana factory that had been set to move to Mexico, marking a victory for President-elect Donald Trump on an issue that had become a rallying cry during his campaign. “We are pleased to have reached a deal” with Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence to keep the work in the U.S., Carrier said Tuesday in a tweet. Trump tweeted that he’ll travel to Indiana on Thursday to make the announcement. Carrier said earlier this year it would move the furnace plant’s operations, eliminating 1,400 U.S. jobs, to keep production costs competitive.

The decision garnered national notice after a worker’s cell-phone video of the announcement to employees took off on social media and generated criticism of Carrier parent United Technologies, which is also a major defense contractor that supplies engines for U.S. fighter jets. Trump, as well as Democratic U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, seized on the announcement and used the company in their presidential campaigns as an example of how U.S. workers were being hurt by trade deals. In April, Trump said he would impose a hefty tax on Carrier’s Mexican-made products and “within 24 hours, they’re going to call back: ‘Mr. President, we’ve decided to stay. We’re coming back to Indianapolis.’”

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When the reserve currency stops flowing, beware.

Asia Is About to Face a Significant Dollar Stress Test (BBG)

For Asian markets, 2017 could be the year of the dollar crunch. Foreign portfolio flows have taken a sharp downturn since Donald Trump’s election victory, with $15 billion fleeing Asian bonds and stocks this month alone — close to 30% of year-to-date inflows to the region, according to Deutsche Bank — as a strengthening greenback and a bevy of protectionist policies from the president-elect darken the growth prospects for emerging markets. Lending spreads, domestic demand and the resolve of domestic central banks to offset liquidity shortages will be tested next year, analysts warn, as key sources of dollar flows to the region trade and portfolio inflows may unravel if Trump makes good on his key campaign proposals.

A slew of investment banks this week, including Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Societe Generale, reckon the pain for emerging markets will intensify in 2017, citing, in part, the rising cost of servicing dollar debts amid a strengthening greenback relative to local currencies, and higher Fed policy rates. “The [debt-servicing] challenge looks even fiercer for non-US borrowers who have borrowed in dollars — dollar strength will make it harder to repay the debt,” SocGen analysts, led by Brigitte Richard-Hidden, wrote in a report on Tuesday. “There are plenty of them, as the outstanding dollar-denominated credit to the rest of the world has more than doubled over the past 10 years to nearly $10 trillion,” analysts at the French bank conclude. “EM countries and corporations in particular have been keen on borrowing in dollars ([to the tune of] $3.2 trillion).”

At the heart of the challenge, according to analysts: a tighter U.S. trade position with the region in the coming years, which would shrink the pool of dollars floating overseas and make it harder for emerging markets to settle cross-border trade and service hard-currency debts. “Each of these sources of dollars – whether from trade, portfolio flows or debt issuance – could be at risk in the new post-election regime,” Deutsche Bank strategists, led by Mallika Sachdeva, wrote in a research note on Monday. “This could mean a reduction in trade surpluses in the region: exports could suffer from protectionist efforts.”

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Much of the world is a Chinese property bubble, especially major cities.

Property Bubble ‘Most Important Macro Issue In China’ – Deutsche (BI)

China’s debt-fuelled property boom, and potential bust, will be one of the biggest issues facing the country’s policymakers in 2017, according to Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank economists, led by Zhiwei Zhang and Li Zeng, said the real estate bubble is “the most important macro issue in China,” in a note to clients. They point to rapid hikes in land sales and auction prices, as well as mounting debt levels, as needing attention. Land sales accounted for more than a third of local government revenue, Deutsche Bank said, and mortgages made up 43% of all new loans issued in renminbi. The difference between the starting price and final price in land auctions continues to rise rapidly and “this shows some developers continue to expect sharp property price inflation to come,” the analysts said. Here’s the chart:

And here’s the debt chart showing sharp increases for this year:

“Chinese policymakers are aware the market risks overheating and will act accordingly.” “In the next few months we believe the government will put further pressure on developers by tightening broad credit growth,” Zhang and Zeng said. “Property sales and investment growth will likely slow further in 2017Q1. Local government land revenue may weaken by 2017Q2.” On Monday analysts at Morgan Stanley raised the alarm about increased household borrowing, led by mortgages, in a note to clients. China’s debt to GDP rose to 276% in the third quarter this year from 249% in 2015. “This has been mainly driven by a rapid rise in new mortgages from RMB 1.7 trillion in 2014 to RMB 4.6 trillion in the past 12 months,” according to a note circulated to clients. With the debt overhang growing, the economic benefits of borrowing more are shrinking. It took nearly eight units of debt to produce one unit of GDP growth in 2016, compared with around four in 2014.

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Want to bet?

China’s Foreign Investment ‘Shopping Spree’ Over?! (SCMP)

The central government is embarking on a massive policy shift designed stem capital outflow by curbing mainland China’s outbound investment, sources informed of official instructions have told the South China Morning Post. Tighter control of outbound investment is likely to put an end to a trophy asset shopping spree by well-connected companies such as Anbang Insurance and Dalian Wanda, with Beijing is ready to cut the supply of foreign exchange for such deals. Shanghai’s municipal foreign exchange authority had told bank managers in the city that all overseas payments under the capital account bigger than US$5 million would have to be submitted to Beijing for special clearance before proceeding, the sources said. China’s central bank talks up the yuan against US dollar ‘uncertainties’

While the move did not necessarily mean all such deals would be vetoed, the regulatory procedures that would have to be navigated before completing them would take much longer, the sources said. A separate document seen by the Post, said to be the minutes of a central bank meeting on cross-border capital controls, said that from September next year Beijing would ban deals involving investment of more than US$10 billion, mergers and acquisitions valued at more than US$1 billion outside a Chinese investor’s core business, and foreign real estate deals by state-owned enterprises involving more than US$1 billion. [..] Mainland China’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen by US$873 billion since hitting an all-time high of US$3.99 trillion in June 2014. The reserves fell by US$46 billion last month, the largest monthly fall since January, but that understates the size of mainland China’s capital flight because residents are also moving yuan assets abroad.

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It’ll be allowed to blunder on. TBTF.

RBS Fails Bank Of England Stress Test (Ind.)

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has failed key hurdles in a Bank of England stress test, forcing the lender to draw up new plans in case of a financial crisis. The toughest stress test yet assessed how the UK’s seven biggest lenders would cope with hypothetical scenarios including a recession, a housing crash and a halving of the oil price. RBS, which is still 73% owned by the government after its bailout in 2008, has emerged as the worst hit in the annual health check of the banking system. This means the lender must take action to protect itself against a sharp slump in the economy. RBS has issued a plan intended to bolster its financial strength by an estimated £2bn, which has been accepted by the BoE.

The bank has also reduced its “risky” assets by £10.4bn or 21% to £38.6bn. Ewen Stevenson, RBS chief financial officer, said the bank is committed to creating a “stronger, simpler and safer” bank for their customers and their shareholders. He said: “We have taken further important steps in 2016 to enhance our capital strength, but we recognise that we have more to do to restore the bank’s stress resilience including resolving outstanding legacy issues.” Barclays and Standard Chartered also struggled under the test, however neither was required to submit a revised capital plan. The test also covered HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Santander and Nationwide.They did not reveal any capital inadequacies in the test, the BoE said.

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“the big theme is the reduced confidence in the UK economy looking back and ahead..”

UK Shoppers ‘Resolutely Gloomy’ About The Future Of The Economy (Ind.)

Shoppers are now “resolutely gloomy” about the country’s economic future and are putting off big purchases as uncertainty mounts, according to a respected survey. The GfK Consumer Confidence Barometer, which surveys 2,000 people, recorded a measure of –22 for confidence in the economy over the next year, down from -17 in October and –9 in September. A negative number means more people think things will get worse than vice versa. Major purchases took the biggest hit according to the report, with the index falling 9 points from 14 in October to 5 in November. People’s view of their personal financial situation over the next twelve months also fell. However, both measures are above their respective post-referendum nadirs.

Spending has so far kept up as buyers stock up on Christmas gifts but the prospect of sharply increasing prices, stagnant wages and further uncertainty over access to the UK’s single market have all weighed heavily on shoppers’ expectations over the past month. Earlier in November, the Bank of England made a dramatic rise to its inflation forecast, predicting it will almost triple from 1% to 2.7% in 2017 as the effects of a weakened pound are felt. National Institute for Economic and Social Research was even more pessimistic, saying it expected inflation to quadruple to about 4% in the second half of next year. Joe Staton, Head of Market Dynamics at GfK, said, “the big theme is the reduced confidence in the UK economy looking back and ahead. We are viewing our economy over the past 12 months with increasing despondency.” Staton said that “despite strong GDP numbers”, shoppers are “resolutely gloomy about the outlook” for the economy.

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Me, I’m wondering where we are when everyone feels compelled to comment on such obvious nonsense. This morning when going through the news I kept on seeing photos of Trump and Romney having dinner. What’s the news? What’s the value? Don’t these people have more important things to do than to report on that?

The ‘Washington Post’ ‘Blacklist’ Story Is Shameful and Disgusting (Taibbi)

Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism. The thrust of Timberg’s astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a “hurricane” of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”

The piece relied on what it claimed were “two teams of independent researchers,” but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing. The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious “organization” called PropOrNot – we don’t know if it’s one person or, as it claims, over 30 – a “group” that seems to have been in existence for just a few months. It was PropOrNot’s report that identified what it calls “the list” of 200 offending sites. Outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute were described as either knowingly directed by Russian intelligence, or “useful idiots” who unwittingly did the bidding of foreign masters.

Forget that the Post offered no information about the “PropOrNot” group beyond that they were “a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Forget also that the group offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies, even offering this remarkable disclaimer about its analytic methods: “Please note that our criteria are behavioral. … For purposes of this definition it does not matter … whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide ‘useful idiots’ of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.”

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How long would he remain alive though?

US Intelligence Experts Urge Obama To End Snowden’s ‘Untenable Exile’ (G.)

The campaign to persuade Barack Obama to allow the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to return home to the US without facing prolonged prison time has received powerful new backing from some of the most experienced intelligence experts in the country. Fifteen former staff members of the Church committee, the 1970s congressional investigation into illegal activity by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, have written jointly to Obama calling on him to end Snowden’s “untenable exile in Russia, which benefits nobody”. Over eight pages of tightly worded argument, they remind the president of the positive debate that Snowden’s disclosures sparked – prompting one of the few examples of truly bipartisan legislative change in recent years.

They also remind Obama of the long record of leniency that has been shown by his own and previous administrations towards those who have broken secrecy laws. They even recall how their own Church committee revealed that six US presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon, were guilty of abusing secret powers. “There is no question that Snowden broke the law. But previous cases in which others violated the same law suggest leniency. And most importantly, Snowden’s actions were not for personal benefit, but were intended to spur reform. And they did so,” the signatories write. The Church committee, or the US Senate select committee to study government operations with respect to intelligence activities, to give it its full name, sat in 1975-76 at a time of deep public anxiety about the rogue work of federal agencies.

The aftershocks of Watergate were still being felt, and Seymour Hersh had exposed in the New York Times mass illegal activities by the CIA, including routine surveillance of anti-war groups. As the 15 staff members point out, the committee investigation led to the disclosure of jaw-dropping illegal acts including the planting of an FBI informant inside the civil rights group the NAACP, attempts to push Martin Luther King into killing himself, and Cointelpro, the vast program run secretly by the FBI to disrupt progressive organisations in the US.

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Great little history lesson. Whether or not to agree with the assumptions behind it is another matter.

The End Of Empires: Rome Vs. America (SHTFP)

The year was 451, and the battle of Chalons (also known as Catalaunian Fields and Campus Martius) was fought between a coalition of Roman legionnaires, Germanic Visigoths, and Gauls against the Huns. Flavius Aetius was the Roman commanding general, and he led his forces to defeat Attila, king of the Huns and commander of the Hun armies. The loss caused Attila to withdraw and skirmish into Italy, but again (this time through diplomacy and concessions) he withdrew in 452, returning into what is now modern Hungary. Attila died in 453, and the Hun menace to Europe had ended. Aetius had been the declining (and fragmented) Western Roman Empire’s best chance to restructure itself. He had fought in Gaul and throughout Italy and Europe for decades, sometimes even with support from the Huns before Attila began his quest for empire.

A master strategist, tactician, diplomat, and warrior, he effectively stemmed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire for another 25 years. In all probability, he may have been able to turn things around for a longer period of time. This was not to be, as he was assassinated by none other than the Emperor Valentinian III and his henchman Heraclius on 22 September 454. The emperor killed the very man who had protected and assured his throne, and worse: now there was no true strategist to take the reins of military command. The last great Roman general was no more, and the Western Roman Empire continued to decline and fragment. [..] Less than 25 years after the battle of Chalons had given it a fighting chance, the Western Roman Empire was no more. [..]And here we are, as history repeats itself, in the last days of the American Empire.

Now ready to assume the Purple and ascend to the seat of power, Donald Trump is going to command and lead (we hope). The campaigns for the midterm elections will begin in November of 2017, therefore Trump has less than one year to begin to reverse the devastation wrought by two consecutive Obama terms that have, in eight years, placed the country on its deathbed and measured it for burial. In a four-year term of office, Donald Trump has to do the job that Aetius did for Rome in two decades, with the last year of that term being wasted on the primary focus of his reelection. What is the difference between Rome and America? A vast geographical area, influxes of alien migrants, an economy that is faltering, a military less than at its best, immorality, vice, and corruption at every turn, societal degradation and a welfare state, and foreign nations ready to pounce characterize both empires.

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“Hillary Clinton’s campaign was engineered from the get-go to complete the demolition of American manhood..”

The Rediscovery of Men (Jim Kunstler)

Donald Trump was about as far from my sense of the male ideal as anything short of the Golem. His accomplishments in life — developing hotels that look like bowling trophies and producing moronic TV shows — seem as flimsy as the plastic golden heraldry plastered on his casinos. His knowledge of the world appears to be on the level of a fifth grader. He can barely string together two coherent sentences off-teleprompter. I was as astonished as anyone by the disclosure of his “grab them by the pussy” courtship advice to little Billy Bush. In my experience, it seemed a very poor strategy for scoring some action, to say the least. In a better world — perhaps even the America he imagines to have been great once — Donald Trump would be a kind of freak among men, a joke, a parody of masculinity.

But then consider the freak show that American culture has become in our time and it shouldn’t be surprising that a cartoon nation has ended up with a cartoon of a man as head-of-state. In fact, I doubt that there even is any remaining collective idea of what it means to be a man here in terms of the ancient virtues. Honor? Dignity? Patience? Prudence? Fuhgeddabowdit. The cultural memory of all that has been erased. The apotheosis of Trump may remind a few people of all that has been lost, but we’re starting from nearly zero in the recovery of it. Consider also the caliber of the male persons who stepped into the arena last spring when the election spectacle kicked off. Only Bernie Sanders came close to representing honorable manhood — in the form of your irascible old “socialist” uncle from Brooklyn — while the rest of them acted like Elmer Fudd, Mighty Mouse, and Woody Woodpecker. And then when the primary elections ended, Bernie drove a wooden stake into his own heart in a bizarre act of political hara-kiri.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign was engineered from the get-go to complete the demolition of American manhood in what turned out to be a reckless miscalculation. “I’m with her (and against him).” Too much in recent American history has been against “him” and a great many of the hims out there began to notice that they were being squeezed out of the nation’s life like watermelon seeds. Most particularly, men were no longer considered necessary in whatever remained of the family unit. This went against the truth of the matter, of course, because nothing has been more harmful to everyday life than the absence of fathers. And this was connected to the secondary calamity of men losing their roles in the workplace — and the loss of self-respect connected with that. So the election awakened some sleeping notion that life was wildly out of balance in America. And being so out of balance, it swung wildly in the other direction.

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All major food firms are involved. Shun all products that contain palm oil. It’s incredibly damaging in many ways.

Major Global Firms Buy Indonesia Palm Oil Produced By Child Labor (R.)

Global consumer companies, including Unilever, Nestle, Kellogg and Procter & Gamble, have sourced palm oil from Indonesian plantations where labor abuses were uncovered, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. Children as young as eight worked in “hazardous” conditions at palm plantations run by Singapore-based Wilmar International and its suppliers on the Indonesian islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra, Amnesty said in a report. Amnesty, which said it interviewed 120 workers, alleges that many of them worked long hours for low pay and without adequate safety equipment. The palm oil from these plantations could be traced to nine multinational companies, it said.

“Despite promising customers that there will be no exploitation in their palm oil supply chains, big brands continue to profit from appalling abuses,” said Meghna Abraham, senior investigator at Amnesty. The NGO said it chose Wilmar as the focus of its investigation as the company is the world’s largest processor and merchandiser of palm and lauric oils, controlling more than 43% of the global palm oil trade. Other companies operating palm plantations in Indonesia include Golden Agri-Resources, Indofood Agri Resources and Astra Agro Lestari.

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What a blemish on the US this is.

North Dakota Moves To Block Supplies From Reaching Pipeline Protesters (R.)

North Dakota officials on Tuesday moved to block supplies from reaching oil pipeline protesters at a camp near the construction site, threatening to use hefty fines to keep demonstrators from receiving food, building materials and even portable bathrooms. Activists have spent months protesting plans to route the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying the project poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native American sites. State officials said on Tuesday they would fine anyone bringing prohibited items into the main protest camp following Governor Jack Dalrymple’s “emergency evacuation” order on Monday. Earlier, officials had warned of a physical blockade, but the governor’s office backed away from that.

Law enforcement would take a more “passive role” than enforcing a blockade, said Maxine Herr, a spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. “The governor is more interested in public safety than setting up a road block and turning people away,” Herr said by telephone. Officers will stop vehicles they believe are headed to the camp and inform drivers they are committing an infraction and could be fined $1,000. These penalties should serve as a hindrance, according to Cecily Fong, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. “So that effectively is going to block that stuff (supplies), but there is not going to be a hard road block,” Fong said by telephone.

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One can be quite specific here. Insurers so far don’t act because the government doesn’t.

The Areas America Could Abandon First (BBG)

So far this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent $1.1 billion on what are called Individual Assistance payments, which help households recover from natural disasters. There are no limits on the number of times a household can apply, so the program isn’t just a safety net; for some people, it’s effectively a subsidy to live in areas that are especially vulnerable to hurricanes, floods and storm surges. That hasn’t gone unnoticed in Washington. In 1999, a Nebraska congressman introduced a bill preventing some properties with multiple claims from getting help – not just disaster relief, but also subsidized flood insurance. Two years later, the George W. Bush administration’s first budget proposed denying aid to the “worst offending repetitive loss properties.”

Under President Barack Obama, FEMA proposed reducing disaster aid for public buildings damaged more than once in the previous decade if local governments hadn’t done anything to protect them. None of those proposals took effect. But as extreme weather gets worse, those federal subsidies will only become more expensive – increasing the need to rethink government support for those who choose to live in harm’s way. “Climate change is real and will lead to even more frequent and costly disasters,” Rafael Lemaitre, FEMA’s director of public affairs, told me. “We must continue to work with states to implement longer-term projects and strategies that mitigate against climate change.” That means it’s time to consider an impolitic question: If federal support gets rolled back, which areas will people have the greatest incentive to leave?

To answer that, I asked FEMA which parts of the country have the most households that repeatedly get Individual Assistance payments, which are a useful proxy for exposure to all types of extreme weather. The agency gave me a list of 1,930 counties where at least one address had requested such aid more than once since 1998 – 1.3 million households in total. That data, which the agency said it had never before compiled, is reflected in the graphic below; the shading represents the number of households per capita that have applied for FEMA aid multiple times.

Unsurprisingly, the areas where households are most likely to repeatedly request aid are generally along coasts. The surprise is how they’re distributed: Rather than being spread uniformly along shorelines, a small number of counties account for the most repeat claims – one more reminder that the burden of climate change will not fall evenly. That’s also true within the most affected counties. The charts below show the number of households per capita requesting disaster aid more than once since 1998, by ZIP code, for four areas with especially high concentrations of repetitive claims. These charts don’t just map the losers from any reduction in federal support: At a more basic level, they show some of the places Americans will face the most pressure to abandon because of extreme weather — at least, people who can’t afford the full cost of recovering from natural disasters.

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Unverified, but not at all unlikely.

Turkey Has Secret Plan To Send 3,000 Refugees To Greece Every Day (Ind.)

The Turkish government has a secret plan to allow 3,000 refugees to sail to Greece every day, intelligence officials have claimed. Greek analysts claim thousands of dinghies and motorboats have massed along the Turkish coast as the refugee deal agreed between Ankara and Brussels looks set to unravel. Turkish President Erdogan threatened to open the borders if the EU continued to block talks on the country’s accession to the union. The European Parliament voted to temporarily halt membership talks amid concerns about the brutal crackdown on dissent in the country following an attempted military coup in July. Mr Erdogan warned: “If you go any further, these border gates will be opened.

Neither me nor my people will be affected by these dry threats. It wouldn’t matter if all of you approved the vote”. The deal reached in March meant any refugee who arrived on Italian or Greek shores would be sent back to Turkey in exchange for EU member countries accepting another refugee from a Turkish camp on a “one for one” basis. Ankara will also received aid money to help it care for the refugees within its borders, visa free travel for its citizens and the speeding up of membership talks. But according to Greek newspaper Proto Thema, Ankara has given up on hope of Brussels living up to its side of the deal and could start allowing the refugees to flee “within a matter of weeks”.

Greek intelligence expert Athanassios Drougas told The Times: “No one is underestimating Mr Erdogan and his unpredictability these days. “These plans, along with explicit threats that the Turkish president has made in recent weeks, have Greece’s joint chiefs of staff seriously concerned. “They are fearful and they have told the political leadership here that if Turkey opens the floodgates yet again, Greece, in its current state of financial and social distress, will not be able to withstand the shock. It will spell war or wreak the havoc of one. “With Europe in a mess, Mr Erdogan feels he has a free hand in trying to blackmail the bloc using the refugee crisis as leverage.”

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Nov 242016
 
 November 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Kennedy and Johnson Morning of Nov 22 1963


Another Election Year, Another Bunch Of Fake Growth Numbers (John Rubino)
China Vows To Defend Trade Rights In Face Of Trump Tariff Threats (R.)
IMF: Chinese Banks Disguise A Massive Amount Of Bad Debt (BI)
The ‘Ownership Society’ Came And Went – A Long Time Ago (MW)
How (Slightly) Higher Mortgage Rates Maul Housing Bubble 2 (WS)
‘Brexit Will Blow £59 Billion Hole In UK Public Finances’ (G.)
Pro-Brexit Lawmakers Attack Fiscal Watchdog’s Gloomy Outlook (BBG)
Capital Flight From Italy (Reinhart)
Jill Stein Raises Over $2 Million To Request US Election Recounts (G.)
Bernie Sanders Should Visit Trump Sooner Rather Than Later (NYDN)
Merkel Warns Against Fake News Driving Populist Gains (AFP)
Putin: EU Resolution Equating RT to ISIS A ‘Degradation Of Democracy’ (R.)
US Navy’s New $4 Billion Stealth Warship Breaks Down – Again (ZH)
Greece Wants To Conclude EU/IMF Review, Won’t Accept ‘Irrational’ Demands (R.)
Greek Businesses Move Abroad To Escape Austerity (R.)

 

 

“So why the approximately $1.8 trillion surge in government borrowing? Because a robustly-healthy economy was necessary to help the party in power stay in power.”

Another Election Year, Another Bunch Of Fake Growth Numbers (John Rubino)

Some pretty good economic reports have energized various parts of the financial markets lately. Consumer spending is up, GDP is exceeding expectations and even factory orders, that perennial downer, popped this morning. In response the dollar is soaring and interest rates are at breaking out of their multi-decade down-channel. The economy is clearly recovering, implying a return to normality. Right? Nah, it’s just the usual election year illusion. When the presidency is at stake the party in power always pumps up spending in an attempt to put people back to work and create the impression of a well-run country whose leaders deserve more time in the spotlight. After the election, spending returns to trend and the resulting bad news gets buried in “political honeymoon” media coverage.

How do we know this year is following the script? By looking at the federal debt. If the government is borrowing more than usual and (presumably) spending the proceeds, then it’s likely that the economy is getting a bit more than its typical diet of stimulus. So here you go: Note that after seven years of massive increases, the federal debt plateaued in 2015, which is what you’d expect in the late stages of a recovery. With full employment approaching and asset prices high, there should be plenty of tax revenues flowing in and relatively few people on public assistance, so the budget should be trending towards balance. Well, more people are working this year than last, and stock, bond and home prices all rose in the first half of the year. So why the approximately $1.8 trillion surge in government borrowing? Because a robustly-healthy economy was necessary to help the party in power stay in power.

This is a huge jump in government debt, even by recent standards. And its impact is commensurately large, accounting for a big part of the “growth” seen in recent months. But it’s also unsustainable. You don’t double a government’s debt in a single decade (from an already historically high level) and then keep on borrowing. At some point an extreme event or policy choice will put an end to the orgy. Either the markets impose discipline through a crisis of some sort, or the government adopts a policy of currency devaluation or debt forgiveness. And – in a nice ironic twist – the people who did the insanely-excessive borrowing are leaving town, to be replaced by folks who will inherit something unprecedented, with (apparently) no clear idea of what’s coming or what will be necessary in response.

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Protectionism and globalism in one.

China Vows To Defend Trade Rights In Face Of Trump Tariff Threats (R.)

China will defend its rights under WTO tariff rules if US president-elect Donald Trump moves toward executing his campaign threats to levy punitive duties on goods made in China, a senior trade official has said. Zhang Xiangchen, China’s deputy international trade representative, also told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday that a broad consensus of academics, business people and government officials have concluded that China is not manipulating its yuan currency to gain an unfair trade advantage, as Trump has charged. “I think after Mr Trump takes office, he will be reminded that the United States should honour its obligations as a member of the WTO,” Zhang said through an interpreter. “And as a member of the WTO, China also has the right to ensure its rights as a WTO member.”

Trump has said China is “killing us” on trade and that he would take steps to reduce the large US goods trade deficit with China, including labelling Beijing as a currency manipulator soon after he takes office and levying duties of up to 45% on Chinese goods to level the playing field for US manufacturers. Trump said on Monday he will formally exit the 12-country TPP trade deal in January. China is not a signatory to the TPP. Zhang, who spoke at the closing news conference for a two-day technical meeting of US and Chinese trade officials in Washington, was not specific on what steps China would take to protect its rights under WTO rules. The global trading body prohibits members from unilaterally raising tariffs above levels that they have committed to maintain.

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper last week warned that a 45% Trump tariff would paralyse US-China bilateral trade. “China will take a tit-for-tat approach then. A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. US auto and [Apple] iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and US soybean and maize imports will be halted,” the newspaper warned.

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Shadow securities. US redux.

IMF: Chinese Banks Disguise A Massive Amount Of Bad Debt (BI)

China’s banks are disguising bad debts by turning them into “securitized packages” rather than writing them down as non-performing loans, according to the IMF. The “untradeable debt” comes from China’s “shadow credit” world, which has generated a massive amount of credit that has the potential to become suddenly illiquid. The debts consist of interbank loans in “a structure potentially susceptible to rapid risk transmission and destabilizing liquidity events,” the IMF says. The amount of “shadow credit” grew 48% in 2015, to RMB 40 trillion ($580 billion), the IMF says, “equivalent to 40% of banks’ corporate loans and 58% of GDP.” If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It’s similar in principal to the way American banks disguised bad mortgages inside securitized packages before the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008.

Back then, US mortgage providers gave out too many loans to people who couldn’t repay them. On its own, that should not have been a problem. A mortgage default only hurts the bank that made the loan. But banks bundled together packages of those mortgages and sold them as “mortgage-backed securities” to other institutions. Bad mortgages were mixed in with good ones, making it impossible for investors to judge their quality. When it became obvious that some of these packages were toxic, no one wanted to buy any them. The market became suddenly illiquid. And the credit derivative hedges and leveraged bets layered upon them magnified the problem throughout the entire banking system, creating the financial collapse that plunged most of the world into recession.

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It was always just a fabricated dream.

The ‘Ownership Society’ Came And Went – A Long Time Ago (MW)

Of all the aftereffects of the housing bust and financial crisis, the steady decline in the homeownership rate might be among the most pernicious. Homeownership is traditionally one of the best means into the middle class, and it’s still popularly equated with the American Dream. But in a presentation last week, St. Louis Federal Reserve economist William Emmons demonstrated that homeownership has been losing ground for decades. What’s more, Emmons showed that higher ownership rates were likely coaxed along by government policies and national priorities appropriate for a certain moment in history and unsustainable beyond that. After the Depression, Emmons noted, New Deal policies “laid the foundation” for a huge increase in homeownership.

Those policies included the creation of a government financial system, such as the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Banks. But just as important was the return of millions of service members from World War II, rising incomes and a prosperous economy, a national push for a country full of suburban single-family homes and highways to connect them all, as well as a national process of Americans “sorting themselves out” by race and class into the broad geographic outlines that would persist for decades. That meant the U.S. enjoyed robust growth – until it didn’t. Not only was there little room left to grow, but other changes began to influence ownership, Emmons said. Americans began to age, pushing off marriage, childbearing and home-buying until later.

The U.S. is also becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Hispanics and African-Americans have traditionally had more limited opportunities to achieve homeownership – but as Emmons pointed out, citing research from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, “aspirations to own a home are higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among whites and Asians, despite homeownership rates that are 20 to 30 percentage points lower.” And while much of the impact of the 2008 crash has ebbed, it still continues to impact many people through diminished personal wealth, damaged credit scores, blighted neighborhoods, and some loss of trust in financial institutions.

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How ‘little things’ add up.

How (Slightly) Higher Mortgage Rates Maul Housing Bubble 2 (WS)

After the brutal beating following Election Day, US Treasuries took a breather early this week. But today, the beating resumed and will continue until the mood improves. Mid-day, the 10-year Treasury fell so hard that its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of price, spiked to 2.42%. By the end of the day, the 10-year yield was at 2.36%, up 4 basis points for the day, and up an entire percentage point from July this year: The market is 100% certain that the Fed will stop flip-flopping in mid-December and raise rates by moving the upper limit of the Fed funds target range to 0.75%. The markets see more rate hikes next year. A Fed funds rate with the first “1”-handle since 2008 would be a phenomenon a whole generation of Wall Street gurus has never seen in their professional lives.

Mortgage rates are chasing after Treasury rates. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported today that the 30-year fixed-rate conforming mortgage ($417,000 or less) reached 4.16%, its “highest weekly average since the beginning of 2016.” This caused a flurry of activity. Last week, amid the post-election interest rate spike, mortgage applications plunged. But homebuyers may be trying to lock in whatever rate they can get, before they go even higher, and mortgage applications surged. Ironically, from a historical point of view, nothing major has happened so far. That spike is still small compared to what came before, including the spike during the Taper Tantrum in the summer of 2013, when the Fed started musing about ending QE Infinity. Compared to prior years, rates are still very, very low, but home prices have since soared, and for home buyers even a minor uptick makes a world of difference.

From the peak of Housing Bubble 1, which in San Francisco occurred in 2007, to Q3 2016, the median house price soared 45%. But due to plunging mortgage rates, the monthly housing costs increased only 14%. Now with rates rising, that process is going to reverse. The household income needed to qualify for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage with 20% down on that median $1.3 million house in San Francisco was $251,000 before Election Day. Paragon observes: “By Friday, November 18, the income requirement increased by $13,000. And if the interest rate goes up to 5% (and again, we are not saying it will), an additional $35,000 in annual income would be required.”

Hence, at 5%, a minimum qualifying household income of $286,000 a year. In this scenario, even in less costly markets, there are two things that happen: One, many people have to step down to a lower-priced home, or they don’t buy at all. A market-wide shift of this type puts downward pressure on prices and volume. And two, as people stretch more to buy homes at higher interest rates and higher monthly costs, they have even less money to spend on other things. This creates a new drag on consumer spending. It’s how low mortgage rates not only subsidized the house price bubble but the entire economy by giving consumers more money to spend – not just the US economy but exporter nations around the world.

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Or will it?

‘Brexit Will Blow £59 Billion Hole In UK Public Finances’ (G.)

Philip Hammond conceded that Brexit will blow a £59bn black hole in the public finances over the next five years, as he outlined plans to boost investment in infrastructure and housing to equip the UK economy for life outside the EU. In his first fiscal statement, the chancellor, who had supported remain, sought to strike a cautiously upbeat tone about the country’s prospects, saying the economy had “confounded commentators at home and abroad with its strength and its resilience” since the referendum result last June. But the first official projections conducted after the vote of the likely impact of leaving the EU pointed to significantly weaker growth after Brexit. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) announced that there would be a cumulative £122bn of extra borrowing over the next five years, with £59bn of that as a direct result of Brexit.

Other factors included weaker-than-expected tax revenues, and policy changes, including Hammond’s decision to spend more on infrastructure. George Osborne was expecting to achieve a surplus of £11bn on the public finances by 2020-21; instead, the OBR is now forecasting a £21bn deficit – and public debt is expected to peak at more than 90% of GDP. With little cash to spare, Hammond offered only modest handouts to the “just about managing” families (Jams) Theresa May’s government had said it wanted to help, although he repeatedly used the mantra of “building an economy that works for everyone”. The chancellor announced a renewed freeze in fuel duty, to help motorists – largely paid for with an increase in insurance premium tax from 10% to 12% – and a partial reversal of planned cuts to universal credit.

But Labour said there was no cash for either the NHS or social care, which are under increasing strain with winter approaching. Instead, the main thrust of Hammond’s first set-piece outing at the dispatch box was how to help Britain withstand the challenges of leaving the EU.

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Agree to disagree.

Pro-Brexit Lawmakers Attack Fiscal Watchdog’s Gloomy Outlook (BBG)

Conservative lawmakers attacked Britain’s fiscal watchdog after it warned that Brexit would cost £60 billion ($75 billion) in extra borrowing as the economy falters. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast — the first official assessment of the costs related to leaving the bloc – also stated that exiting the EU would leave Britain with less potential for sustainable growth. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who presented the forecasts alongside his Autumn Statement Wednesday, said the predictions showed there is an “urgent” need for Britain to tackle its long-term economic weaknesses. “We’ve had an endless slew of gloom and doom, and I just don’t buy it,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, a Tory lawmaker who backed the campaign to leave the EU. “They haven’t exactly had a brilliant track record. I’d take their predictions with a pinch of salt.”

Pro-Brexit lawmakers have been critical of both the OBR and the Treasury for overstating the negative consequences of Brexit. While Hammond made brief references to the opportunities that leaving may bring, his tone was one of caution, with few giveaways and a focus on creating a more productive economy that could weather future shocks. Responding to complaints from pro-Brexit politicians, Hammond told lawmakers that economic forecasting “is not a precise science.” He added: “The OBR very specifically says in its report that there is an unusually high degree of uncertainty in the forecasts it is making because of the unusual circumstances.”

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It’s high time for Italy to go its own separate ways. There’s nothing to gain from the EU anymore, but lots to lose.

Capital Flight From Italy (Reinhart)

Understandably, after the surprise victory in June of the “Leave” campaign in the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, and of Donald Trump in the United States’ presidential election, no one has much faith in polls in advance of the Italian vote. There is, however, a disquieting real-time poll of investors’ sentiment: capital flight from Italy has accelerated this year. There is a recent precedent for this. In the summer of 2015, Greece’s short-lived default on its IMF loan and the introduction of capital controls and deposit-withdrawal restrictions were at the center of the eurozone drama. Tensions between the Greek and German governments ran high, and speculation about whether Greece would remain in the eurozone escalated.

The stage has now shifted to the much larger Italian economy. In the current environment of uncertainty, yield spreads on Italian bonds have widened to about 200 basis points over German bunds. Economic and political conditions in the two debt-laden southern European economies differ in important respects; but there are also similarities. Economic growth in both countries has lagged far behind other advanced economies for more than a decade, but most markedly since the Global Financial crisis of 2008-2009. According to IMF estimates, real per capita income in Italy is about 12% below what it was in 2007, with only Greece faring worse. The problem of bank insolvency, endemic in Greece, where nonperforming loans account for more than one-third of bank assets, is not as generalized in Italy.

Still, the uncertain resolution of Italy’s third-largest bank, Monte dei Paschi, together with the Italian government’s limited resources to deal with weak banks, has fueled unease among depositors. Bankers also warn that the plan for Monte dei Paschi’s rescue may be jeopardized by the December referendum, which could trigger another round of decline in share prices. But, for all the talk of a looming banking crisis, the balance-of-payments crisis already underway in Italy since the first half of 2016 is the main factor driving the real-time poll of investors. Prior to the adoption of the euro, an unsustainable balance-of-payments position in Italy (as in other countries with their own currencies) would typically spur the central bank to raise interest rates, thereby making domestic financial assets more attractive to investors and stemming capital flight. With the ECB setting monetary policy for the eurozone as a whole, this is no longer an option for Banca d’Italia.

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Nostalgia for hanging chads.

Jill Stein Raises Over $2 Million To Request US Election Recounts (G.)

Jill Stein, the Green party’s presidential candidate, is prepared to request recounts of the election result in several key battleground states, her campaign said on Wednesday. Stein launched an online fundraising page seeking donations toward a a multimillion-dollar fund she said was needed to request reviews of the results in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Before midnight EST on Wednesday, the drive had already raised more than the $2m necessary to file for a recount in Wisconsin, where the deadline to challenge is on Friday. Stein said she was acting due to “compelling evidence of voting anomalies” and that data analysis had indicated “significant discrepancies in vote totals” that were released by state authorities.

“These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified,” she said in a statement. “We deserve elections we can trust.” The fundraising page said it expected to need around $6m-7m to challenge the results in all three states. Stein’s move came amid growing calls for recounts or audits of the election results by groups of academics and activists concerned that foreign hackers may have interfered with election systems. The concerned groups have been urging Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democratic nominee, to join their cause.

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As I said yesterday in “Trump Moves as America Stands Still”.

Bernie Sanders Should Visit Trump Sooner Rather Than Later (NYDN)

Trump aside, evidently the most clairvoyant messenger of 2016 was Sanders, who got pitifully little support from the Democratic Party establishment — including a raw deal from the DNC, which tilted the scales against him in order to coronate Hillary. His brand of anti-Wall Street, anti-elite populism is ascendant. He is the tribune of the progressive youth, many of whom refused to back Hillary despite her repeated (and hollow) entreaties. So what should Sanders do now? Well, how about meeting with the new President-elect? It might seem incongruous. What would the nationalist, brash Trump have to gain from the aging socialist Sanders? Well, maybe quite a bit. Trump explicitly proclaimed during the campaign that he was going to take a page from Bernie’s playbook, much to the consternation of conservative pundits.

“I’m going to be taking a lot of the things Bernie said and using them,” Trump declared in April. And indeed, Trump followed through on the pledge: He made opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership a centerpiece of his campaign, thus emphasizing an area of agreement with Sanders. (Trump has since confirmed that the trade deal will be canceled.) He called for a reduced U.S. military presence abroad. And he even repeatedly defended Sanders before millions of people at the televised debates, pointing out that he’d been screwed over by the DNC and Clinton minions. Naturally, Trump and Sanders will never agree on everything, but where they do see eye-to-eye, why not take advantage?

Two days after the election, Sanders issued a statement noting Trump’s success at connecting with folks “sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.” Sanders then offered to “work with” him on discrete initiatives. Trump has already announced that an infrastructure funding bill is one of his top priorities, so who better than Sanders to help steer the legislative process in the most fruitful possible direction? (Bernie this week characterized Trump’s plan as a “scam,” so why not register those concerns in person?)

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Sounds desperate.

Merkel Warns Against Fake News Driving Populist Gains (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday against the power of fake news on social media to spur the rise of populists, after launching her campaign for a fourth term. Speaking in parliament for the first time since her announcement Sunday that she would seek re-election next year, Merkel cautioned that public opinion was being “manipulated” on the internet. “Something has changed – as globalisation has marched on, (political) debate is taking place in a completely new media environment. Opinions aren’t formed the way they were 25 years ago,” she said. “Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls – things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms and we have to learn to deal with them.”

Merkel, 62, said the challenge for democrats was to “reach and inspire people – we must confront this phenomenon and if necessary, regulate it.” She said she supported initiatives by her right-left coalition government to crack down on “hate speech” on social media in the face of what she said were “concerns about the stability of our familiar order”. “Populism and political extremes are growing in Western democracies,” she warned. Last week, Google and Facebook moved to cut off ad revenue to bogus news sites after a US election campaign in which the global misinformation industry may have influenced the outcome of the vote. But media watchers say more is needed to stamp out a powerful phenomenon seen by some experts as a threat to democracy itself.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats are the odds-on favourites to win the German national election, expected in September or October 2017.

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Well, we already knew the EU has gone crazy.

Putin: EU Resolution Equating RT to ISIS A ‘Degradation Of Democracy’ (R.)

The European Parliament called on the EU and its states to do more to counter Russian “disinformation and propaganda warfare” on Wednesday, drawing an angry response from President Vladimir Putin. A motion endorsing a committee report, which also called for more effort against attempts by Islamic State to radicalize Europeans, passed by 304 votes to 179. Members on the far left and far right were opposed; many in the center-left abstained. “The European Parliament … expresses its strong criticism of Russian efforts to disrupt the EU integration process and deplores, in this respect, Russian backing of anti-EU forces in the EU with regard, in particular, to extreme-right parties, populist forces and movements that deny the basic values of liberal democracies,” the 59-point motion read.

With East-West relations in deep freeze since Moscow responded to an EU pact with Ukraine by annexing Crimea in 2014, the Parliament’s report accused the Kremlin of funding media outlets that spread falsehoods and of sponsoring eurosceptic movements in Western Europe which are growing in strength. Putin said that after lecturing Russia on democracy Europe was now trying to silence dissenting opinions. He told reporters in Moscow: “We are observing a certain, quite obvious, degradation … of how democracy is understood in Western society, in this particular case in the European Parliament.” In Strasbourg, center-left lawmakers said they could not endorse the report because Russia was not alone in posing such threats and they objected to the way it appeared to be given an equivalent status to the non-state militants of Islamic State.

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Not a bug but a feature. Given the multibillion ‘trouble’ with the JSF, what do you think the odds are the military-industrial complex makes broken equipemnt on purpose, for profit?

US Navy’s New $4 Billion Stealth Warship Breaks Down – Again (ZH)

For the second time in two months, The Navy’s new $4 billion stealth warship has broken down. As Military.com reports, the ripped-from-the-pages-of-a-sci-fi mag-looking USS Zumwalt is now in Panama for repairs after suffering a breakdown while passing through the Panama Canal on Monday evening. Military.com’s Hope Hodge Seck reports that a spokesman for U.S. 3rd Fleet, Cmdr. Ryan Perry, told Military.com that the commander of 3rd Fleet, Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, had instructed the USS Zumwalt, the first in a new class of stealthy destroyers, to remain at ex-Naval Station Rodman in Panama to address the engineering casualty. “The timeline for repairs is being determined now, in direct coordination with Naval Sea Systems and Naval Surface Forces,” he said in a statement.

“The schedule for the ship will remain flexible to enable testing and evaluation in order to ensure the ship’s safe transit to her new homeport in San Diego.” An official confirmed to Military.com that the ship had been transiting south through the canal en route to its new San Diego homeport when the incident occurred. The ship had to be towed to pier by the Panama Canal Authority, the official said. While details about what caused the breakdown were few, Navy Times – which first reported the incident – cited reports about problems with heat exchangers in the ship’s integrated power plant that had contributed to the mishap. [..]The ship also made headlines earlier this month when multiple outlets reported that the missiles fired from its 155mm Advanced Gun System, at $800,000 apiece, were too expensive for the Navy to buy in large quantities [..]

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But they’ve accepted tons of others already?!

Greece Wants To Conclude EU/IMF Review, Won’t Accept ‘Irrational’ Demands (R.)

Greece wants to conclude its bailout review but cannot accept what it sees as irrational demands on labor reform or for extra austerity, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday, in his first speech to lawmakers after a cabinet reshuffle. Negotiations between Greece and its official creditors – the EU and the IMF – hit a snag this week due to differences on fiscal targets, energy and labor reforms in the country, where one in four is unemployed. “The Greek government is fully consistent with what was agreed and has proven it has the political will to conclude the second bailout review without meaningless delays,” Tsipras told his Syriza party lawmakers. “But this does not mean we would discuss irrational demands.”

The mission chiefs overseeing Greece’s bailout program implementation left Athens on Tuesday. Government officials said talks would continue but the latest disagreements and a long-standing rift among the creditors on medium-term fiscal targets have clouded Greek hopes for a swift conclusion. Unpopular labor reforms, including collective bargaining, a mechanism to set the minimum wage and giving companies more freedom to lay off workers are the main sticking point in talks with lenders. Tsipras said differences could be bridged if there is political will on all sides, adding that an agreement could be reached by Dec. 5, when euro zone finance ministers will meet in Brussels.

“It is realistic but also absolutely necessary to conclude the talks soon to secure at the scheduled Dec. 5 … meeting the agreement needed on a political level in order to conclude the bailout review,” he said. Tsipras said this would pave the way for talks on debt relief measures, not only in the short term but also in the medium and long term, which would allow Greece to lower primary surplus targets beyond 2018, when its bailout program ends.

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The Troika forces Greece to strangle itself.

Greek Businesses Move Abroad To Escape Austerity (R.)

Greek businessman Prokopis Makris believes moving to Bulgaria three years ago was the best decision he ever made. The accountant shut his failing furniture company in Greece and opened a business helping other entrepreneurs move to Bulgaria to escape a 29% tax rate, which has jumped since Athens adopted austerity as part of an international bailout. “We are bombarded with taxes in Greece, businesses are being annihilated,” he says in his plush office overlooking the town square of Petritsi, a Bulgarian town about 12 km (seven miles) north of the border with Greece. The debt crises faced by Greece and several other European countries led to drastic spending cuts and tax increases to improve government finances.

But the higher taxes punished businesses forcing many to shut or move to lower tax jurisdictions such as Bulgaria or Cyprus, helping those economies but undermining the recovery needed to balance the books at home. The number of Greek owned businesses based in Bulgaria, where the corporate tax rate is only 10%, has risen to 17,000 from 2,000 in 2010, when Greece had its first bailout, according to Bulgarian authorities. The Greek government is concerned. It plans a series of tax audits in cooperation with Bulgaria to determine if these business defections are merely changes of address designed to avoid tax rather than a physical relocation of operations. [..] Six hundred kilometers north of Athens, the Greek-Bulgarian border is teeming with traffic. A ravine through mountains on the Greek side gives way to a sweeping valley where agriculture and vineyards are the mainstay of the local economy.

At two small industrial parks 5 km inside Bulgaria, Greek signs are everywhere, advertising storage and office space. “There are dozens of Greek businesses just in this area alone, from transport companies to textile businesses and construction materials,” said Yiorgos Kalaitzoglou who runs a logistics business out of one of the industrial parks where a sign reads, “Land of Opportunities”. Three years ago, his business was stuttering in Greece. He moved to Bulgaria, leaving his wife and family in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city an hour’s drive away. “The taxman in Greece takes 70 to 90% of earnings, Greece simply doesn’t let you live,” the 50-year-old said as he walked through a warehouse stacked with ladders and paint tubs.

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